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Record of Discussion – Advisory Group on Families Teleconference

September 15, 2017
1300 – 1430 (EDT)

In Attendance

  • Sergeant (Retired) Alannah Gilmore (Co-Chair)
  • Tamara Kleinschmidt, Trenton Military Family Resources Centre
  • Dave LeBlanc, RCMP Veterans Association
  • Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Chris Lindford
  • Brigadier-General (Retired) Bill Richard
  • Nora Spinks, The Vanier Institute of the Family
  • Ray McInnis, Royal Canadian Legion

Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs

  • Ben Charland, Stakeholder Relations

Veterans Affairs Canada Officials

  • Faith McIntyre, Director General, Policy and Research (VAC co-chair)
  • Katherine Spencer-Ross, Director, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Michelle Morrison, Senior Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Lucienne Rossignol, National Manager, National Case Management Unit

Observer

  • Amanda Jane, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Regrets

  • Laurie Ogilvie, Military Family Services
  • Namita Joshi, True Patriot Love Foundation
  • Jenny Migneault
  • Karine Villeneuve, Operational Stress Injury Social Support, Department of National Defence
  • Yvonne Burke, Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association

Welcome and Opening Remarks

The teleconference began with opening remarks from the Co-chairs. The member Co-chair was pleased to note that the newly appointed Minister of Veterans Affairs Seamus O’Regan had contacted her directly, and had indicated his intention to work with the Advisory Groups, and was looking forward to an open dialogue. The teleconference agenda items and highlights of the discussion are provided below.

Follow-up items from August 16, 2017 meeting

The VAC Co-Chair noted follow-up items from the previous meeting, including:

  • The intent to solicit more feedback from group members on the Services and Benefits booklet, introduced at the August 16, 2017 meeting.
  • My VAC Account staff are offering the group a teleconference specific to that topic to obtain more feedback from the group, and to provide training/information on the latest updates on the tool.
  • The Care Continuum Framework document developed by the Vanier Institute will be shared with the group.
  • A question was raised about the National Client Satisfaction Survey results, and whether this survey could be extended to include family members. This will be added as a forward agenda item.

Caregiver Recognition Benefit

At the August 16, 2017 meeting, a briefing was provided on the new Caregiver Recognition Benefit announced in Budget 2017. Two issues raised at that meeting were responded to during the teleconference:

  1. It was asked whether the age of a caregiver receiving the caregiver benefit could be lowered below 18 years of age (the age currently specified in legislation).

    Response: The age of 18 was a carryover from the age specified for the current Family Caregiver Relief Benefit. This is consistent with the legislative treatment of persons under the age of 18 within the Pension Act and the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act. It was noted the likelihood that a lower age of those able to receive the new Caregiver Recognition Benefit would be possible, but this would require a change in the legislation.
  2. There were concerns that the eligibility requirements for the new benefit are too restrictive.

    Response: It was clarified that the Caregiver Recognition Benefit policy and business process does recognize the episodic nature of a Veteran's mental health condition - by specifying that a Veteran is considered to need ongoing care if the Veteran’s health condition(s) is not likely to substantially improve for at least twelve months (this acknowledges that the Veteran's condition is ongoing, but the severity may be greater at some times than others). This is noted also within the current Family Caregiver Relief Benefit policy and business process.

Additional comments were made regarding the Caregiver Recognition Benefit:

  • There may not be significant numbers of young caregivers for Veterans who would apply for the new benefit, but it would be very valuable for those who do.
  • There is data from the Canadian context showing that there are increasing numbers of younger caregivers across all types of caregiving. This puts them at a disadvantage for getting into the paid labour force at the same time as other youth.
  • Younger caregivers eligible to receive this benefit could have these skills formally recognized in their resumes.
  • The group agreed that lowering the age of those able to receive the new Caregiver Recognition Benefit would be beneficial to pursue.
  • The group had concerns regarding the limited eligibility.
  • The group will formalize its recommendations regarding this benefit and submit them to the Minister.

Case Management

The National Manager of the National Case Management Unit provided an overview of case management at VAC, touching in particular on how this relates to families of Veterans. Highlights of the presentation and discussion included:

  • Case Managers make efforts to include family members in their case planning with Veterans, often doing the assessments in-home.
  • Case Management services do not necessarily include access to programs or funding; it is about coordination and referral to necessary services, some of which might be community based. Eligibility for financial benefits or programs would have to be considered separately and are not directly related to Case Management per se.
  • In certain circumstances spouses have access to services which may be delivered by a Case Manager, such as through the Rehabilitation Program. Families also may have access to mental health service when it directly relates to the Veteran’s case plan and in such cases may be coordinated by a Case Manager.
  • New transition-related initiatives will result in more frequent screening of Veterans and their families to identify more of those who need support.
  • The Veteran Family Coordinators at seven Military Family Resource Centres (MFRCs), to be expanded to all MFRCs in April 2018, may be a more appropriate resource to provide coordination of services for families given their knowledge of community programs and services. Efforts are being made to ensure that VAC Case Managers establish partnerships and work closely with the Veteran Family Coordinators in order that family issues can be raised to VAC.

Comments from the Group:

  • The current case management model pivots around the Veteran, and not all families feel included or recognized in the process, even though their contributions would be beneficial to the Veteran.
  • The Royal Canadian Legion, through its volunteers, offers support to families, to assist with filling out applications and navigating VAC’s benefits and services.
  • VAC should use its current ways of identifying “complex situations” of Veteran clients as an automatic flag to reach out to the family members, and to ensure they are aware of supports offered.

Establishing a Commission related to Families

A recommendation that the group had previously made at the 2016 Stakeholder Summit was to “create a military and veteran families Standing Commission to carry on the important work of the advisory group on families”. The discussion included the following:

  • The Director of Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach outlined possible directions this initiative could go, including the establishment of an arms-length group similar to the structure of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, or a Parliamentary subcommittee that specifically addresses Veteran family concerns.
  • The group agreed that this point can be revisited at a future date, to ensure that the voice of the Advisory Group continues long term. However in the short term there is Government support to maintain the role of the Advisory group and the group remains active.

Review of Recommendations to the Minister

A review of the recommendations previously submitted to the Minister at the Stakeholder Summit in October 2016, resulted in several additional ones the group considers important to bring forward for consideration. The discussion included the following additional recommendations:

  • Expand eligibility of the new Caregiver Recognition Benefit to include caregivers under 18 years (as described above).
  • The new Caregiver Recognition Benefit eligibility criteria should ensure it is accessible for those who care for, and coordinate care, for Veterans with physical and mental health conditions.
  • Expand access to MFRCs to include all Veterans and their families (not just those medically released).
  • Explore how military spouses could possibly contribute to a pension or specific RRSPs during times of unemployment related to the military life (for example when the spouse is unable to work as a result of postings, relocations or deployments).
  • Explore the possibility of a new benefit that addresses financial compensation for loss of paid employment for a spouse who is providing caregiving to their ill and injured Veteran spouse.
  • Provide access to My VAC Account for family members in their own right.
  • Orient commemorative events to have greater involvement and recognition of family members.

Next Steps and Roundtable Comments

  • The group will formalize the recommendations into a presentation format.
  • More work is required on the Caregiver Benefit to add clarity on the eligibility criteria.
  • The group will provide feedback on the Services and Benefits brochure.
  • There will be a follow-up teleconference offered specifically regarding My VAC Account.
  • A number of the members participated in the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Mental Health First Aid Training and recommended that other members complete this training, if possible.
  • The group’s message to have family members more involved and recognized in commemorative events will be brought to VAC’s Commemoration Division.

Closing Remarks

Co-chairs thanked the group for the great discussion and work accomplished.

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