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Record of Discussion - Advisory Group on Families

11 May 2020
1300 - 1400 (EDT)
Virtual via MS Teams

In Attendance

Members

  • Sergeant (Retired) Alannah Gilmore (Co-chair)
  • Namita Joshi, True Patriot Love Foundation
  • Dave LeBlanc, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Veterans Association
  • Ray McInnis, Royal Canadian Legion
  • Jenny Migneault
  • Nora Spinks, Vanier Institute of the Family
  • Karine Villeneuve, Operational Stress Injury Social Support
  • Yvonne Watson

Regrets

  • Tamara Kleinschmidt, Canadian Armed Forces, Military Family Resources Centres
  • Laurie Ogilvie, Canadian Armed Forces, Military Family Services
  • Brigadier-General (Retired) Bill Richard

Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs

  • Sarah Cozzi, Director of Policy
  • Benjamin Sparkes, Policy Advisor and Parliamentary Affairs Atlantic

Veterans Affairs Canada Officials

  • Crystal Garrett-Baird, Director General, Policy and Research (Co-chair)
  • Rick Christopher, Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy and Commemoration
  • Faith McIntyre, Director General, Communications
  • Sylvie Thibodeau-Sealy, Director, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Karen Rose, Senior Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Samuel Duguay, Project Officer, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach

Observer

  • Laura Kelly, Office of the Veterans Ombud

Opening Remarks

  • The co-chairs welcomed the members and thanked everyone for joining the meeting.
  • The VAC co-chair gave a brief overview of the agenda items, including an update on the renewal of advisory groups, an overview of the Advisory Group on Families (AGF) recommendations, and a discussion on the way forward.
  • VAC is currently focusing its attention on Budget 2021. Highlights include:
    • Funding for a new mental health program providing access to treatment benefits for up to two years for mental health-related conditions while Veterans are waiting for their disability benefit application to be approved. It was noted that VAC is still working on the design for the program and will engage with stakeholders in the development.
    • Expansion of the Veteran Family and Wellbeing Fund. Budget 2021 announced an additional $15 million equally divided over three years starting this fiscal year. The money will go to grants only.
    • Service Excellence and Digital: Funding for VAC to extend disability adjudication resources provided in Budget 2018. The funds will help improve efficiency in processing disability benefit applications and the decision-making process using digital technology.
    • There is funding for a joint peer support program with the CAF and the DND for survivors of military sexual trauma. The pilot will provide online and in‑person peer support for CAF members and Veterans who experienced sexual misconduct during their services.
    • There is $45 million over two years going to Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) for a Veterans homelessness pilot. VAC is working closely with ESDC to launch the pilot.
    • There are supports and measures in the budget to strengthen long-term care and supportive care.
    • There are measures in the budget to increase Old Age Security and improve access to the disability tax credit.

Update on Renewal of Advisory Groups

Director General of Communications thanked the group for their continued dedication, passion and work on behalf of Veterans and their families, and spoke to advisory group renewal, highlights included:

  • Renewing group membership will allow VAC to learn from new perspectives and consider diverse opinions.
  • The intent is that each group would have approximately 12 members representing a broad cross section of Veterans, Veterans organizations, non‑profit, public and private sector associations as well as underrepresented groups and observer status members.
  • For current members, the Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach team will confirm intent to remain, and those who are interested in remaining will be asked to provide their resume.
  • New members will be appointed by the Minister through an open and transparent application process where a Notice of Opportunity will be posted to fill positions. Candidates interested in applying will be asked to complete an application form and include a cover letter and resume.
  • The plan is to launch the application process and to post the notice in mid‑May for four weeks. Applications will be assessed and appointments made, with intent for advisory groups to resume meeting in the fall.
  • A pause on the Advisory group formal engagement will occur once the renewal process is launched until the refresh which will likely occur in early Fall.
  • Members are encouraged to continue to communicate with the department and the Minister’s office as needed at any point in time.

Advisory Group on Families Recommendations

The co-chairs provided a brief overview of their meetings and discussions on the group’s recommendations and the current status, including:

  • Caregiver Recognition Benefit
    • The group would like to work with the Policy Advisory Group on the Attendance Allowance approach as a viable option on a go‑forward basis. Recommend submitting a single joint recommendation from the two groups.
  • Recognize families as a client with access to case management services.
    • Status: On‑going reviews are being done to determine how best to include the family member within authorities and what this would mean for existing programs and services.
  • Providing an ID card for spouses and dependents of service members and Veterans.
    • Status: Veteran ID cards, being issued by the Canadian Armed Forces and are still in the active phase of implementation. Next steps and phases will be reviewed in the future.
  • Providing families direct access to My VAC Account, including targeted information for families and caregivers.
    • Status: If a family member or caregiver has their own CSDN ID, they can currently register and use My VAC Account. On the My VAC Account site, under useful links, there is a section called Families and Veterans. Part of the recommendation was implemented, but work continues to improve access.
  • Expanding the military/Veteran Family Services to all Military Family Resource Centers and make it available to all Veterans and their families.
    • Status: Undergoing review and evaluation of the current Military Veteran Program in order to determine next steps.
  • Developing a family-centric outreach and communication strategy.
    • Status: VAC uses many channels and outlets to communicate depending on the information and target audience. Working collaboratively on an ongoing basis to continue to improve and evolve the communication strategy to ensure messages are resonating with target audiences.
  • Military and Veteran family standing commission be created to carry on the work of the Advisory Group on Families if/when the AGF disbands.
    • Status: The Advisory Group on Families will be renewed at this time. This recommendation can be set aside for now.

Other

  • Member expressed concerns with the Attendance Allowance; there seems to be an issue with RCMP Veterans being told they do not qualify when in fact, they do.
    • VAC will follow up with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Veterans Association to address the issue.
  • Vanier Institute of the Family will share survey data on the impact of COVID‑19 on families with the members to get their input and validation before sharing with the public.
  • Member highlighted that the transition process impacts the family and recommends that the AGF collaborate with the Service Excellence and Transition Advisory Group on the topic of transition.
  • Member recommends that all advisory groups come together once or twice per year to share topics of interest and explore opportunities for collaboration between groups.
  • Member highlighted that during the COVID-19 period, families have been struggling more than Veterans and CAF members because they are isolated, unable to get out of their homes, or have private discussions.
  • Member expressed concern with disability benefit wait times and asked if there is a plan to address the issue.
    • VAC hired over 350 employees to address the backlog. Additionally, Budget 2021 provided funding to address the backlog. VAC is also looking at other innovative ways such as digitization to help process cases more quickly. Tackling the backlog remains the Minister’s service delivery priority.

Closing Remarks

  • Co-chairs thanked everyone for their time and recognized member participation and contributions.
  • Meetings will be deferred during the renewal process and summer months, but members are encouraged to continue to communicated and reach out to VAC will any pressing issues or opportunities.
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