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Veterans Affairs Canada Advisory Group on Families

December 2, 2020: 13:00 - 14:30 (EDT)

Participant List

Advisory Group on Families Members (9)

  • Yvonne Boudreau
  • Sergeant (Retired) Alannah Gilmore (Co-chair)
  • Namita Joshi, True Patriot Love Foundation
  • Tamara Kleinschmidt, Canadian Armed Forces, Military Family Resources Centres
  • Jenny Migneault
  • Laurie Ogilvie, Canadian Armed Forces, Military Family Services
  • Brigadier-General (Retired) Bill Richard
  • Nora Spinks, Vanier Institute of the Family
  • Karine Villeneuve, Operational Stress Injury Social Support

Regrets (2)

  • Dave LeBlanc, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Veterans Association
  • Ray McInnis, Royal Canadian Legion

Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs (2)

  • Andrea Waselnuk, Policy Advisor, Stakeholders and Events
  • Abigail Garwood, Policy Advisor

Veterans Affairs Canada Officials (5)

  • Crystal Garrett-Baird, Director General, Policy and Research (Co-Chair)
  • Jeff Gallant, A/Manager, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Jean Davis, A/Senior Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Darcy Dunn, A/Evaluation Manager, Audit and Evaluation
  • Lara Rooke, A/Senior Director, Strategic Policy

Presenters (1)

  • Fiona Jones, Caregiver Recognition Benefit (A/Director, Audit and Evaluation)

Observer (1)

  • Laura Kelly, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Opening Remarks

This was the first meeting of the Advisory Group with the new Director General, Policy and Research, as co-chair. The VAC co-chair introduced herself to the group, and indicated her pleasure in serving as co-chair. The member co-chair welcomed the VAC co-chair and reflected upon the desire to make a difference for Veterans. The member co-chair acknowledged the delay between meetings due to COVID-19. Before the agenda items started, the members introduced themselves.

Caregiver Recognition Benefit Evaluation

Veterans Affairs Canada’s Audit and Evaluation Division presented an overview of the Evaluation Report of the Caregiver Recognition Benefit. Recommendation and action plans details can be found within the Report. Overall, the Evaluation concluded that the Benefit has evolved since its implementation to better meet the needs of caregivers, but further opportunities exist to reach the intended program recipients. Policy improvements are required to better explain and define program requirements; further direction is required on the acceptable age of source documents used for the program to ensure decisions reflect the Veteran’s current health needs; and opportunities exist to improve decision letters and links to other available resources

The Audit and Evaluation Division’s work on the Evaluation was acknowledged.

While the corrective actions and the corresponding completion dates for the Caregiver Recognition Benefit Evaluation are noted in the report, the Department is also awaiting the outcome of the ongoing Horizontal Evaluation on Program Eligibility and the Office of Veterans Ombudsman Caregiver Recognition Benefit micro-investigation. These reports will assist in informing any improvements to the Caregiver Recognition Benefit (CRB).

The VAC co-chair noted that the Caregiver Recognition Benefit is available to caregivers of Veterans who have mental and physical health conditions.

Discussion:

Members articulated that the Caregiver Recognition Benefit eligibility criteria is too stringent and the benefit does not adequately meet the needs of Veterans and their families. The member co-chair noted that other Ministerial Advisory Groups are also exploring the Caregiver Recognition Benefit, and a collaborative approach would be useful.

This member clarified that this advisory group was clear in its deliberation on the need to have a continuum of care. It was noted that the current work and progress on the Caregiver Recognition Benefit is for seriously disabled Veterans and their caregivers. The member articulated that while there is a need to support those families, there is a need for recognition and acknowledgement of, and expansion of the Caregiver Recognition Benefit to other families, including a model with levels. Early identification, early intervention and minimal involvement for caregivers whenever possible is desired.

The member co-chair expressed that the majority of caregivers are not recognized by this benefit and that this is tough on the families that are truly struggling to support their injured/ill veteran. Finding ways to aid these families and their struggles and hardship should be a priority. The member co-chair indicated that the Advisory Group on Families continues to recommend the 3 tier benefit that was presented at the Veteran Affairs Canada Stakeholder Summit in October, 2016. This 3 tier system will encompass supporting caregivers based on what is required (effort/time) in order to assist the Veteran. The member co-chair asserted that the current benefit is perfect for Tier 3 and stated that if it is part of VAC’s mission to aid the families and caregivers then this benefit would be an excellent step forward on providing them that support.

A member addressed the definition of “family” and noted that the term cannot be uniquely limited to spouses. It must also include siblings, former spouses, parents, grandparents, etc.. The member noted that there are 27 distinct definitions of “family” between VAC, DND, Canada Revenue Agency and the Government of Canada generally. Additionally, the member noted that a lot has been achieved for families since 2012, but a great deal of work remains to be done

There was a discussion about caregivers under the age of 18. The VAC co-chair noted that caregivers under the age of 18 are not eligible for benefits as caregivers. Children under 18 are considered dependent children in VAC’s legislation. From a policy perspective, it could be viewed as inconsistent to make amendments that would define individuals under the age of 18 as “dependent children” for the purposes of some benefits and define them as independent and, therefore, no longer dependent for the purpose of others.

A member spoke to the understanding of the complexity of being both a caregiver and a dependent although, the children under 18 should be considered dependents and not caregivers. Children under 18 are often part of the caregiver team. The member indicated that the current benefit will have an impact on the family going forward.

The VAC co-chair indicated that the stakeholder input on the Caregiver Recognition Benefit is being heard and appreciated.

Review of Advisory Group on Families Work Plan

Due to time constraints, the Work Plan will be discussed at a future meeting.

Discussion of 2020 Recommendations to the Minister

Due to time constraints, the 2020 recommendations to the Minister will be discussed at a future Advisory Group on Families meeting.

Note: A Ministerial Advisory Groups’ Co-Chairs meeting was held on 19 January 2021 to discuss the status of advisory groups’ recommendations. A second meeting with co-chair is anticipated in late March 2021.

Closing Remarks

Advisory Group members agreed to hold monthly meetings to recalibrate advisory group recommendations. The Advisory Group on Families will continue to meet as a whole quarterly. The VAC co-chair indicated that the honesty and the insight of the members was appreciated. The member co-chair thanked everyone for their participation. The meeting was adjourned.

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