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Veterans Affairs Canada Service Excellence Advisory Group Meeting

Tuesday February 25, 2020
Location: Boardroom 1403, 14th Floor, 66 Slater Street, Ottawa, Ontario
Boardroom - Laurier

In Attendance

  • Master Corporal (Retired) Joseph Burke
  • Deanna Fimrite, Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada (Co-chair)
  • Captain (Retired) Dennis LeBlanc (Co-chair)
  • Commander (Retired) Sarah McMillan, It’s Just 700
  • Corporal (Retired) Bruce Moncur
  • Sylvain Chartrand, Canadian Veterans Advocacy
  • Bruce Henwood, National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada

Regrets

  • Ralph Mahar, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Veterans’ Association
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Trevor Campbell, Canadian Armed Forces Liaison Officer to Veterans Affairs Canada

Veterans Affairs Canada Officials

  • Rick Christopher, Director General, Centralized Operations Division (In-Person)
  • Patrick Lynch, Senior Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach

Presenters (Videoconference)

  • Kirsten Johnson, Manager, Re-establishment, Financial Well-Being
  • Rick Christopher, Director General, Centralized Operations Division (In-Person)
  • Danica Arsenault, Director, Re-establishment, Financial Well-being and Business Intelligence
  • Tracy Cudmore, Manager, Strategic and Enabling Initiatives
  • Chris Hutt, Manager, Transition Services
  • Tammy MacWilliams, Manager, Re-establishment, Financial Well-being and Business Intelligence

Observer

  • Sharon Squires, Deputy Ombudsman, Executive Director, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Welcome and Opening Remarks

The VAC and member Co-Chairs welcomed the members. The meeting included round table introductions. The Service Excellence Advisory Group last met formally as a group in June, 2019. The group voiced their concerns around the lack of members on this advisory group and the fact that the membership needs to be renewed. The group would also like to have Minister’s Office staff representation as a minimum in any future meetings

During this discussion, the group expressed concern with the lack of engagement over the last number of months. The Deputy Minister arrived and spoke to the group about the importance of their role and in particular, the guidance that they provide to the Department. The Deputy also spoke about the membership and that hearing from stakeholders will remain an essential element to ensure the Department is serving Veterans and their families.

Work Plan Review

The group reviewed the work plan and then decided that a more fulsome discussion on this would take place at the end of the day as the agenda items lend well to the commitments made in the mandate letter.

Career Transition Services

The Manager, Re-establishment, Financial Well-Being delivered a presentation on Career Transition Services which provided an overview of Career Transition Services including what services are provided by the contractor (Agilec), the outcomes and indicators of the program along with any challenges to date that have been experienced.

Discussion

  • The group wanted to ensure that the Department is fully integrated with the Canadian Armed Forces Career Transition Services team and the Department confirmed that they are and that the partnership is working well.
  • There was a question around the follow-up process for the Veteran. It was noted that the Department is doing a follow-up after 6 months and then the plan is closed 3 months after that which also has another follow-up component.

Disability Benefits Processing Turnaround Times

The Director General, Centralized Operations Division, delivered a presentation on Disability Benefits Processing Turnaround Times. The main section within the presentation focused on streamlining initiatives to handle the backlog of claims. There were twelve initiatives presented to the group:

  • Integrated Teams
  • Return Incomplete Applications
  • Limiting Medical Consultations
  • Hearing Loss and Tinnitus Project
  • Nudging Towards My VAC Account
  • Access to Canadian Forces Health Information Systems (CFHIS)
  • Digitization of Hearing Loss and Tinnitus
  • Streamlining Conditions around PTSD
  • Quality of Life Questionnaire
  • Modernizing the Table of Disabilities
  • Timelines for Reassessment
  • Allow Physicians to fill out questionnaires online

Discussion

  • Each of the initiatives were discussed in detail with the group wanting clarification on the exact details that were being proposed. The group agreed that all twelve initiatives were helpful in reducing the backlog and that the Department should continue to work on ways to reduce the backlog.
  • The group proposed that the Department look at the processing standards for still serving members versus Veterans to see if this could alleviate the wait time for disability applications. However, after further discussions, the group decided against pursuing this recommendation at the current time due to the decision of the Supreme Court allowing still serving members the right to apply for VAC benefits while still in uniform.

The group wanted to meet again within the month to discuss the Quality of Life Questionnaire and to look at the letter for incomplete applications.

Table of Disabilities – GBA+ lens

The Manager, Strategic and Enabling Initiatives, delivered a presentation on Sex and Gender Based Analysis (SGBA) of Disability Benefits Adjudication which provided an overview on the SGBA review including the Report recommendations along with the next steps. This work was completed over a nine month period and was led by Dr. Barbara Clow who has 15 years of SGBA training. She now works with the Office of Women and LGTBQ2 Veterans.

The key findings around this work included:

  • Review confirmed that female clients are waiting longer than male clients for certain disability benefit decisions (eg. Decisions for Musculoskeletal takes 16 days longer and Psychological decision takes 29 days longer)
  • Gender biases in many adjudication instruments and processes
  • No single, identifiable, cause of inequities

Discussion

The group was very supportive and pleased with the short and long term recommendations that the Department is moving forward with to improve these inequities.

Veterans Screening and Assessment Tool

The Manager, Transition Services, delivered a presentation on the Veterans Screening and Assessment Tool which provided an overview of how the screening tool is designed to support Veterans. The presentation focused on how the screening tool replaced the four existing tools and the updated functionality that reduces the “response burden” for Veterans.

Discussion

  • The group was interested in seeing a copy of the screening tool questions. They would like to see a live demo of the screening tool at the next advisory group meeting.

Way Forward

The group reviewed the work plan and determined that the focus should be on areas where specific guidance would be beneficial to the Department.

The meeting concluded with a roundtable where members were thanked for their input and participation. It was noted that a Record of Discussion will be provided.

Day two included an in-camera session for the members along with a VAC staff member as a departmental resource contact.

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