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Veterans Affairs Canada Service Excellence Advisory Group Meeting

Wednesday, June 5, 2019
Location: Ottawa Marriott Hotel, 100 Kent Street, Ottawa, Ontario
Boardroom - Laurier

In Attendance

  • Master Corporal (Retired) Joseph Burke
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Trevor Campbell, Canadian Armed Forces Liaison Officer to Veterans Affairs Canada
  • Deanna Fimrite, Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada (Member Co-chair)
  • Captain (Retired) Dennis LeBlanc (Member Co-chair)
  • Commander (Retired) Sarah McMillan, It’s Just 700
  • Corporal (Retired) Bruce Moncur

Regrets

  • Bruce Henwood, National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada
  • Ralph Mahar, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Veterans’ Association
  • Sylvain Chartrand, Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Veterans Affairs Canada Officials

  • Michel Doiron, Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery (VAC Co-chair)
  • Rick Christopher, Director General, Centralized Operations Division (In-Person)
  • Patrick Lynch, Senior Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach

Presenters (Teleconference)

  • Kirsten Johnson, Manager, Re-establishment, Financial Well-Being
  • Dennis Manning, Director, Case Management and Support Services
  • Robert Cormier, Director Operational and Strategic Affairs, Field Operations Division
  • Rick Christopher, Director General, Centralized Operations Division (In-Person)
  • Tabitha Stubbs, Client Service Team Manager, Field Operations Division
  • Jane Hicks, Director, Pension For Life Implementation
  • Fiona Jones, Manager Program Policy Directorate
  • Peter Brumwell, National Program Manager, Benefit Operations
  • Mary Nicholson, Director, Re-establishment, Financial Well-Being, and Business Intelligence
  • Beth Smith-Cooper, National Program Manager, Treatment Benefits

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 and the meeting began with roundtable introductions. The VAC Co-chair remarks included: highlights from Budget 2019, update on the terms of reference and membership (status quo) and the Advisory Group work plan.

The member co-chairs added that the Advisory Group is small and there will need to be a discussion around the future membership of the group as well as Chair (VAC).

Career Transition Services

The Manager, Re-establishment, Financial Well-Being at VAC delivered a presentation on Career Transition Services. The presentation provided the details around the eligibility for the program, the services provided by the contractor Agilec along with a number of statistics surrounding outcomes for the program.

Discussion

  • A member questioned how do they define success when it comes to this. It was noted that the Department is doing a Public Opinion Research with this group to see if this is meeting their needs.
  • Clarification was sought around the number of hours that the individual is granted. It was confirmed that they receive 4.5 hours for Career Planning plus an additional 7 hours for Career Counselling and up to 12 hours for Job Finding Assistance and Job Placement. On average, 5-7 hours are used up with the Career Transition Advisor.
  • There was a question around how this has been communicated to Veterans and their families. It was noted that this would have been and continues to be part of the Department’s social media plan. The member wanted to ensure that survivors and spouses are part of their target group.

Training of Frontline Staff

The Director, Case Management and Support Services provided a presentation on training for frontline staff. The presentation outlined the benefits of a national learning unit as well as highlighted all of the topics and skills that makes up the national learning program. Over 800 employees have received the training for the National Orientation and Training Program since 2015.

Discussion

  • A member questioned whether the Pension for Life training for frontline staff was just for new staff or were all staff being trained on this information. It was noted that in this case, all front line staff were trained on Pension for Life.
  • A question was raised on why VAC offices have bullet proof glass in their offices especially when the Department is promoting Care, Compassion and Respect. It was confirmed that Public Works is responsible for the actual physical set up of the offices.

Processing/ Turnaround Times

The Director General, Centralized Operations Division delivered a presentation around finding efficiencies to improve processing and turnaround times for disability applications. A number of initiatives that will help in these efficiencies include, integrated teams, development of French and RCMP units along with the introduction of a Cumulative Joint Trauma Tool. VAC currently has a workload of 40,000 claims with 17,000 being in backlog and over the 16 weeks.

Discussion

  • A member raised the importance around advising Veterans the actual wait time for their application as they feel like they constantly need to follow up. It was noted that the Department continues to find efficiencies when processing applications to improve the wait times.
  • There was a question regarding the elimination of the fifths for applications and how has this affected the application process. It was noted that since the elimination of the fifths for applications, the adjudication process has sped up as this step caused a delay in the past.

Plenary Session

Pension For Life

The Senior Director, Pension for Life Implementation delivered a presentation on Pension for Life. Achievements highlighted included transferring over 80,000 clients and sending out over 190,000 letters. Moving forward, VAC will continue to work on functionality issues and enhanced training for staff.

Discussion

  • A member questioned why the letters sent out to Veterans were stock letters as opposed to individualized letters (e.g. “if you are receiving this benefit” as opposed to “as you are in receipt of this benefit”). It was noted that in this case, VAC focused on the importance of communicating changes to Veterans’ payment information early. If VAC had taken additional time to further customize the letters, Veterans would have received their first monthly Pension For Life payment before they received the letter explaining the change in benefits.
  • A question was raised on where Veterans Affairs Canada sources the base wages for pension income. The Canadian Forces Superannuation information will come from either the Canadian Armed Forces or the Veteran, depending on the case. When a Veteran notes that the amount Veterans Affairs Canada is using for the Canadian Forces Superannuation is out of date, the Veteran is requested to send proof of the correct amount.

Guided Support

An Area Director, Field Operations Division, delivered a presentation on Guided Support. Guided support provides services to VAC clients with a moderate level of need as part of the continuum of care model. Guided support was implemented on December 17, 2018 nationally with six face-to-face training opportunities.

Currently 951 Veterans are assigned to guided support. There are two streams: 1) Veterans who are followed through guided support for one year after case management; and 2) Veterans who have a high level of service need for a defined period of time (e.g. Long Term Care). Full reporting capacity is not available at this time to determine if Veterans are in Stream 1 or Stream 2 of Guided Support however anecdotally we know that most are Stream 1.

It was noted that at this time, guided support is not offered for out of country operations.

Discussion

  • There was a question regarding the difference between the criteria for case management and the criteria for guided support. It was suggested that the role of the Veteran Service Agent should be explained and put online.
  • A member raised the importance of informing clients of the 90-day guided support follow-up and the one year guided support follow-up standards post disengagement from case management, as well as the difference in authorities between Case Managers and Veteran Service Agents.
  • There were questions raised regarding whether Veteran Service Agents will create a plan or a checklist regarding the Veteran’s goals for 30 days, 3 months, etc. It was noted that the Veteran Service Agents will use a risk assessment in the screening tool but the intent is not to set goals. There was interest expressed from the Service Excellent Advisory Group members in viewing a copy of the risk assessment tool.
  • It was noted that the ratio of Veteran Service Agents to clients was 16 to 30 during the guided support pilot, and it was clarified that Veteran Service Agents do not need the same qualifications as Case Managers.

Women Veterans’ Forum

The Director, Veteran Priority Programs Secretariat and Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach, delivered an update on the Women Veterans’ Forum held in Charlottetown on May 23, 2019.

The forum had three objectives:

  1. Develop ideas and potential solutions to policy and program challenges facing women Veterans and their families;
  2. Present existing research on Canadian women Veterans and discuss directions for future research; and
  3. Promote collaboration and build strong networks among women Veterans and stakeholder groups.

Some of the findings of the event included the need for increased communication, increased Gender Based Analysis Plus research, better transition support for women Veterans, and improved research on healthcare for women Veterans, among others areas.

The next steps coming out of the forum include developing a work plan that has short, medium and long term goals for the Department, e.g. improving Veterans Affairs Canada’s website to address issues specific to women Veterans.

Discussion

  • It was noted that a report summarizing the forum will be distributed shortly.
  • A member noted that there are gaps in terms in entitlement and benefit grids regarding modern women Veterans, as well as gaps in the research. It was highlighted that the new Statistics Canada question on the Census may provide more data.
  • A point was raised regarding the importance of clarifying roles and responsibilities between the Canadian Armed Forces, Veterans Affairs Canada and the community when it comes to serving women Veterans.
  • The VAC co-chair noted the importance of ensuring that Veterans Affairs Canada puts forth a concerted effort to produce concrete and measurable actions that are within the mandate of the Department and sustainable over time.

Case Management Renewal

The Director, Case Management and Support Services along with the Director Operational and Strategic Affairs, Field Operations Division delivered a presentation (link to presentation) on the challenges and approach for case management renewal. Innovation within Case Management will allow the department to meets its desired goals and outcomes.

Discussion

  • A question was raised around the amount of turnover when it comes to Case Managers as they have a substantial caseload. It was highlighted that the Department has a 10% turnover of Case Managers each year.
  • A point was raised regarding the fear within the Veteran community around the movement from being fully case managed to now being guided support. It was noted that this has nothing to do with trying to obtain the 25:1 ratio, those that need to be fully case managed will remain with that support.

Medical Questionnaires

The Director General, Centralized Operations Division provided a quick verbal update around medical questionnaires. In 2019, the top 21 medical questionnaires have been streamlined. Will be looking at the Quality of Life questionnaire next to ensure that this is meeting the needs of the Veteran.

Discussion

  • A point was raised regarding the importance of modifying medical questionnaires and also ensuring that they meet the need of what is required for VAC and the medical community.

Closing Remarks and Next Steps

The VAC co-chair thanked the group and noted the possibility of holding another co-chairs meeting, to be confirmed. The member co-chair asked about the plan going forward, and for now there was not further clarification provided. Group members were thanked for their presence and meeting was concluded.

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