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Record of Discussion – Advisory Group on Families

Thursday, June 2, 2016
Quebec Boardroom, John G. Diefenbaker Building, 111 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, ON

In Attendance

  • Yvonne Burke, Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association
  • Sergeant (Retired) Alannah Gilmore
  • Amanda Jane, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman (Observer)
  • Namita Joshi, True Patriot Love Foundation
  • Tamara Kleinschmidt, Trenton Military Family Resource Centre
  • Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Chris Lindford
  • Ray McInnis, Royal Canadian Legion
  • Faith McIntyre, Director General, Policy and Research Division (VAC Co-chair)
  • Jenny Migneault
  • Laurie Ogilvie, Military Family Services
  • Brigadier-General (Retired) Bill Richard
  • Nora Spinks, The Vanier Institute of the Family
  • Karine Villeneuve, Operational Stress Injury Social Support, Department of National Defence

Regrets

  • Major (Retired) Francis Laparé

Presenters

  • Faith McIntyre, Director General, Policy and Research Division, Veterans Affairs Canada
  • Tamara Kleinschmidt, Executive Director, Trenton Military Family Resource Centre
  • Laurie Ogilvie, Director, Family Services, Military Family Services, Department of National Defence
  • Amanda Jane, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman
  • Kelly Carter, Acting Manager, Policy Development, Veterans Affairs Canada
  • Kathy Darte, Manager, Veterans Priority Program Secretariat, Veterans Affairs Canada

Welcome

This was the first face-to-face meeting of the Advisory Group on Families and the meeting opened with roundtable introductions. Karen McCrimmon, the Parliamentary Secretary, who attended the first part of the morning, thanked all participants for their willingness to help the Department and shared her experiences as a serving member and Veteran. She highlighted the importance of the family unit to members and Veterans. She noted that government cannot do everything, however, in the short term, she would like recommendations from this group by the end of the summer on what could be included in Budget 2017 that would have a positive impact for families.

Member Co-Chair

Members selected Alannah Gilmore as the co-chair.

Presentations

Presentations provided information to the members on programs and supports that currently exist to support Veterans and family members and addressed Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) programs and benefits with a focus on families (Director General, Policy and Research, VAC and VAC co-chair); Military Family Services (MFS) (Director, MFS); and services offered by the Trenton Military Family Recourse Centre (Executive Director, Trenton MFRC).

A key component of the MFS and MFRC presentations and the subsequent discussion was the current collaborative arrangement between VAC and the Department of National Defence that extends MFRC access to medically-released Veterans and their families for 2 years from date of release. This includes access to MFRC services, the 24/7 Family Information Line and online resources at FamilyForce.ca. The four year trial began on October 1, 2015 and will run until September 30, 2019. The seven pilot sites include Esquimalt, Edmonton, Shilo, North Bay, Trenton, Valcartier and Halifax.

Other points that emerged from questions and discussions related to:

  • Eligibility of family members to programs and services in their own right, not through the member or Veteran;
  • Inclusion of families in the release process;
  • Definition of family and the need to be more encompassing;
  • Use of language, messaging and images that recognize the importance of families in relation to Veterans;
  • Family-centric - families need to be visible and honoured;
  • Improved communications and outreach, education awareness of programs and supports, and development of a consistent and recognizable brand;
  • Need for a Veteran ID card and a family member ID Card; and
  • Inclusion of a Veteran identifier on provincial health records and with Statistics Canada.

Veterans Ombudsman

The Office of the Veterans Ombudsman (OVO) delivered a presentation on the OVO’s January 2016 Report on Support to Military Families in Transition and the Results of the Ombudsman’s Twitter Chat on Families on April 5, 2016.

The OVO Report recommendations reflected most of the earlier discussions on programs and services from VAC, MFS and MFRC and included:

  • lack of direct and proactive communications to families about services and programs;
  • lack of outreach to determine if family needs are being met or to identify those in crisis;
  • lack of treatment benefits for family members in their own right;
  • no wage compensation for caregivers; and
  • lack of access to the Dental Plan for some families.

The OVO noted that it will continue to monitor ongoing progress to ensure that recently announced initiatives meet their intent and that the challenges facing families are addressed. The OVO will also conduct a study to determine the factors that contribute to a successful integration into civilian life and to better understand the importance of families in transition.

OVO Twitter Chat

Held on April 5 to hear from Veterans, families, service providers and experts about the challenges facing families in transition. The OVO estimated that the reach was: 88 users, 600 posts, 92,000 total reach. See storify.com/lisannebelanger/first-ovochat-families-in-transition.

Consultation

Representatives from the Veterans Priority Program Secretariat (VPPS) and Policy Directorate at VAC joined by teleconference to solicit input from the members on the Secretariat’s efforts to develop a Veterans’ Families Strategy; and to seek guidance to support options for policy priorities for families of Veterans. The questions asked related to:

  • Definition of a Family;
  • Recognition of Families;
  • Communication with Families;
  • Performance Measures related to well-being of Veterans and their families;
  • Employment challenges faced by spouses as military members transition to civilian life, and what employment supports would be helpful to spouses; and
  • Supports and information needed to care for ill and injured Veterans.

Highlights of the discussion included:

  • Give the spouse a voice;
  • Evaluation of programs should include the needs of the family;
  • Information needs of the family differ from the Veteran, for example, families need information on illnesses and what to expect post-deployment;
  • Improve branding, messaging and outreach;
  • Monetary benefits to compensate spouse who takes time off to care for ill /injured Veterans;
  • Accommodations in the workplace due to family status, allowing for employment disruption to take care of ill and injured Veterans; and
  • Expand access to jobs in the public service to family members.

The group was thanked for its input. The feedback will be incorporated into the Veterans’ Family Strategy being developed by VPPS and considered in policy options for families of Veterans going forward. A draft of the Family Strategy and policy options will be shared with the group in the future.

Terms of Reference

The Group was advised that the document is high level, that many sections will be consistent with the other five Ministerial Advisory Groups. The group was asked to articulate the scope and the main areas of focus for the Advisory Group on Families (AGF).

Following discussion, the group agreed that the scope of the AGF includes the family aspect of VAC programs, services and benefits related to fulfilling Ministerial Mandate commitments.

Specifically, the Advisory Group will provide the Minister with advice on:

  1. honouring the service (commitment and contribution) of the military family;
  2. ensuring continuity of care and sustainability of support for Veterans and families including, but not limited to; financial, social, medical, emotional, educational;
  3. recognizing excellence and leading practice transfer in Veteran and military family-focused services;
  4. identifying gaps in services and support to families of Veterans and considerations for examination to close the gap;
  5. leveraging the best elements from the Pension Act related to families to compliment the New Veterans Charter;
  6. identifying measures to improve the transition process for the family;
  7. improving communications and outreach including information about the supports available to families; and
  8. evaluating and validating strategies and initiatives related to families.

The Terms of Reference (TOR) will be updated, redistributed to the members for approval. Final approval will be sought from the Minister after which they will be posted to the VAC website.

Workplan

The group reviewed each of the eight areas of focus identified for the TOR and completed a matrix exercise relating impact with energy and resources to assist in determining where it should focus in the short and long term.

The group agreed that in the short term one priority should be the expansion of the MFRC pilot. With further data and research this will be further discussed and defined at the next meeting.

Next Steps

It was agreed that a teleconference would be held in the next 3 – 4 weeks.

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