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Record of Discussion – Advisory Group on Families

Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Pearson Boardroom, International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
150 Kent Street, Ottawa, Ontario

In Attendance

  • Sergeant (Retired) Alannah Gilmore (co-chair)
  • Namita Joshi, True Patriot Love Foundation
  • Tamara Kleinschmidt, Trenton Military Family Resource Centre
  • Dave LeBlanc, RCMP Veterans Association
  • Amanda Jane, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman (Observer)
  • Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Chris Lindford
  • 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
  • Faith McIntyre, Director General, Policy and Research (VAC co-chair)

Regrets

  • Yvonne Burke, Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association
  • Ray McInnis, Royal Canadian Legion

Welcome

The co-chairs of Advisory Group on Families welcomed the members and formally introduced Dave LeBlanc from the RCMP Veterans Association who was attending his first face-to-face meeting. Parliamentary Secretary Karen McCrimmon thanked the members for their hard work and reiterated the importance of families and for the group to identify its priorities that will a positive impact on families for Budget 2017.

Presentations

Priority areas that the group is considering are research and expansion of the pilot project at the Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC). Part of the morning’s agenda was devoted to presentations on these topics.

Research

Briefing on existing research and research in progress on military and Veteran families was delivered by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) Director, Research and Initiatives Projects Manager, Research. It was noted that high quality research exists on Veterans, however, research on families is limited. Research identifies the importance of families to the well-being of military/Veterans, however, families face challenges as a result of the service-related disabilities of Veterans. The current areas for research at VAC include a qualitative study on the health and well-being of families of Canadian Armed Forces Veterans with mental health problems, and the 2016 Life after Service Study will include content on families.

Highlights of the discussion included:

  • The importance of accessing family member and caregivers directly for studies as their perspective often differs from that of the Veteran or serving member.
  • Spouses may be stigmatized by Veterans’ injury/illness and may not disclose how the Veteran is doing.
  • Recognition that children as young as 15 years may provide care, know about trauma and need to be included in surveys and studies.
  • Reference was made to the Wounded Veterans, Wounded Families report.
  • Ability to access universities’ research on military/Veteran families. The Director, Research confirmed that VAC works with organizations such as the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research and its affiliated universities and the Vanier Institute on Families.
  • Inclusion of a Veteran identifier with Statistics Canada to improve the ability for researchers and others to access data on Veterans and their families.

Brief from the Military Family Resource Centres

The Executive Director, Valcartier MFRC presented the Brief from the Military Family Resources Centres entitled “Without family, there is no future”, submitted to the Department of National Defence as part of the public consultation on the future of the Canadian Armed Forces, June 2016.

Synopsis - Canadian military families have clearly shown their significant contribution through the past thirty years of military operations. They make a direct contribution to operational efficiency and for this reason must be recognized in the evolving policies of defence as an integral and vital part of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Families must be supported by all levels of government through the MFRC governed by and for families. The brief contained four key recommendations: to officially recognize MFRC; to include military families in the next defence policy; to create additional programs and funds; and to develop an intergovernmental strategy to support and to address issues facing military families.

Highlights of discussions included:

  • A need to provide standardized services across all MFRCs, recognizing that the size of the MFRCs vary, core services are part of current programming and services are often adapted to meet needs at the local level.
  • The requirement for improved communications and outreach on MFRC services, including promotion to RCMP members and their families as it is not well known that the RCMP can access MFRC services.

Consultation – Enhanced Support for Caregivers

Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) will soon launch an official consultation process on the Government’s commitment in Budget 2016 to make Employment Insurance (EI) Benefits and Job-Protected leaves under the Canada Labour Code (CLC) for Caregivers easier to access, more flexible and more inclusive for workers who care for seriously ill family members. The Senior Director for Special Benefits and Horizontal Policy, Employment Insurance Policy at ESDC joined the meeting to consult with the group and better understand the military/Veteran family caregiving experience and the types of caregiving situations that could benefit from enhanced support.

Highlights of discussion:

  • Government systems that provide programs and services at both the provincial and federal levels do not understand psychological wounds.
  • Special benefits for caregivers provide for income replacement and support labour force attachment. Another consideration will be managing part-time or casual employment.
  • Military could be a group that has special consideration because of its environment, as family members may not have the necessary weeks to quality for the EI.
  • Outside of EI, each region of the country has a different set of support systems, and the resources available in their community often has an impact on whether family caregivers can work.
  • Process - provide criteria that are easy to understand, and simplify approvals, remove the need to have medical certificates signed by a family physician which is not always feasible or appropriate.
  • Standardize processes and forms across Departments, for example one disability certificate shared with Canada Revenue Agency, ESDC and VAC.
  • A balanced approach is required and the employer perspective needs to be a consideration, as there is a cost to getting work done and replacing employees. Incentives for companies to buy into the program may be needed.

Members will be advised when the formal consultation process is launched.

Consultation – Recognize and Compensate

The Acting Manager, Policy Development joined by teleconference to solicit input from the group on recognition and compensation for caregivers.

Highlights of Discussion:

  • Families need to be financially secure with adequate income that is stable and predictable allowing families to plan, access loans, etc.
  • Consider the US model for a caregiver benefit with a needs assessment (high, medium, low) and also the Attendance Allowance in the Pension Act.
  • An educational component should be connected with receiving compensation for caregiving.
  • Recognition is a sense of belonging; for example provide a dependent client number, a dependent identification card, access to My VAC Account, access to case management, a CAF pin tied to years of service for the military member and a similar pin presented to the spouse recognizing his or her years of service.

On-line Caregiver Tool Update

The VAC co-chair verbally updated the group on the on-line caregiver tool that was announced by the Minister in July. She noted that the tool is currently being designed and developed and input from the group will be sought throughout the process. The tool will provide information, access to peer support and interactive discussion boards and is expected to be available in the summer of 2017.

Work Plan Discussion

Three themes were the focus of discussions on recommendations to the Minister that would have a positive impact on families for Budget 2017: 1) Inform and Engage 2) Serve and Support and 3) Recognition and Compensation.

Keys points noted included: access to the Military Family Services Program and the MFRCs, funding for research on families, caregiver benefit paid directly to the caregiver with an education component, recognition in the form of an ID card, access to MY VAC Account and improved communications.

A triage group to include those members who were not available for the face-to-face meeting, will further review the notes and develop potential recommendations to be finalized with the full Advisory Group in a teleconference later in September in advance of the Ministerial Summit being held in Gatineau on October 5 and 6, 2016.

The meeting ended with remarks from the co-chairs and a roundtable. Highlights from the roundtable included:

  • Work is underway to update Compendium 1.0 a reference publication that profiles organizations that are engaged in partnerships and collaborations across the country in supporting Canada’s military and Veteran families. Compendium 2.0 will soon be available on-line.
  • Veterans Ombudsman’s launching via his Blog – Veterans’ Families – Have Your Say! and encouraging Veterans and families to make their views known via the VAC’s online consultation “Have Your Say!”.
  • COPE (Couples Overcoming PTSD Everyday) Program founded by Chris Linford and his wife Kathryn has offered seven sessions to date. (http://copecanada.com)
  • The Military Family Resource Centres with be holding 25th anniversary celebrations on September 10, 2016 on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
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