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Veterans Affairs Canada Service Excellence Advisory Group Teleconference

June 21, 2018
13:00 – 14:30 (EST)

In Attendance

  • Master Corporal (Retired) Joseph Burke
  • Sylvain Chartrand, Canadian Veterans Advocacy
  • Deanna Fimrite, Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada (Member Co-chair)
  • Charls Gendron, Royal Canadian Legion
  • Bruce Henwood, National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada
  • Captain (Retired) Dennis LeBlanc (Member Co-chair)

Regrets

  • Lieutenant-Colonel Trevor Campbell, Canadian Armed Forces, Veterans Affairs Canada – on behalf of Lieutenant-Colonel Simon Coté
  • Commander (Retired) Sarah McMillan, It's Just 700
  • Ralph Mahar, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Veterans’ Association
  • Corporal (Retired) Bruce Moncur

Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs

  • Laurel Chester, Stakeholder Relations

Veterans Affairs Canada Officials

  • Michel Doiron, Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery (VAC Co-chair)
  • Shannon Classen, Senior Analyst, Service Delivery Modernization
  • Sylvie Thibodeau-Sealy, Director, Veterans Priority Programs Secretariat
  • Susan Baglole, Pension for Life Implementation Team
  • Michelle Morrison, Senior Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach

Observer

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

1. Welcome and Opening Remarks

The Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) co-chair provided opening remarks and addressed the agenda items noted below. The member co-chairs added that the Advisory Group is small and there will need to be a discussion around the future of the group.

2. Pension for Life (PFL) Implementation Approach

The senior analyst with Service Delivery Modernization unit presented on behalf of the Director General for Service Delivery Modernization. She provided the group with an overview of the implementation approach for the new Pension for Life benefits, which will come into effect on April 1, 2019. A Powerpoint presentation guided the discussion. The key elements of her presentation included the following points:

  • A brief review of the three new benefits (for more information please visit the following links):
  • The approach adopted by the Department for the successful implementation of the new benefits is guided by the following principles:
    • Give Veterans the benefit of the doubt
    • Design the program for the majority, not the exception, building more trust into the system, so it is simplified for the majority of users, rather than complicated for the small percentage of those with special circumstances.
    • Be Veteran-centric
    • Delegate to and empower VAC employees who are guiding the implementation
    • Tell us once, meaning design it so there are not multiple times certain feedback or inputs have to be heard.
  • The implementation work is happening in multi-disciplinary groups working the problems and solutions together, rather than an assembly line approach. The teams, or ‘scrums’, are empowered to make decisions, and the result is that final products are a joint responsibility of various areas of the department, and will avoid unforeseen complications during the implementation approach.
  • A major focus is on incorporating user-testing early in the implementation process, to ensure this input can influence the design at early stages of development. Advisory group members were invited to be test-users.
  • The PFL application process will be ready on April 1, 2019. The process will continue to be refined as feedback and experience of the Veteran is tracked to ensure improvements are made as needed.

Questions and Answers

Q. How does the current Career Impact Allowance (CIA) supplement fit into the changeover to the new benefits?

A. The current CIA and the CIA supplement benefits will end on March 31, 2019, and applications will be accepted up until that date. With the transition to Pension for Life on April 1, 2019, the CIA benefit will transition from a taxable benefit to a new non-taxable additional pain and suffering compensation. The CIA supplement amount will be included under the calculations for the protected amount under the new Income Replacement Benefit (IRB). After April 1, 2019, although there will no longer be a CIA supplement, there will be a career progression factor added to the new IRB, for eligible Veterans who have a diminished earning capacity designation for a health problem resulting primarily from military service. This career progression goes up to 20 years of service, or the age of 60. For more information, refer to the Pension for Life Web site.

Q. Where did the 20 year mark come from for the career progression calculation, as opposed to 25 years which had been considered the career length calculated by the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)?

A. The Co-chair noted a precise answer would be provided to the group. The following answer was provided after the meeting: The career progression model is intended as a recognition factor and not as a replication factor meaning that it is not meant to replicate the income of a military salary over time but rather to recognize the loss of earnings capacity caused by the end of their military career. Twenty years was chosen as this is the median number of service years for officers (whereas the median number of service years for non-commissioned members was 13 years).

Q. Will every Veteran get an individual letter from the department telling them what to expect in their specific situation before April 1, 2019?

A. Yes, everyone will receive a letter prior to April 1, 2019 clearly stipulating the actual calculation of what they will receive.

Q. Will there be a calculator option for Veterans to calculate their additional monthly amount prior to the implementation of Pension for Life benefits on April 1, 2019?

A. There will not be a calculator, because the calculations of the additional monthly amount for pain and suffering compensation must account for so many different scenarios and individual variances, it is was decided to provide the actual individual calculation to each Veteran, and this will be available in September 2018.

Q. How does the current lack of approved Regulations impact the timing for the implementation of the new Pension for Life benefits?

A. The actual design will be finalized following the approval of the Regulations in early July 2018. (The Notice of Intent for the regulations was on the Canada Gazette for public input at the time of the meeting).

Q. Will the retrospective PSC compensation (additional monthly amount) also happen automatically for survivors in receipt of current benefits?

A. No, as survivors are not eligible for the additional monthly amount.

Q. Will the members of the Service Excellence Advisory Group be invited to be user testers on the new systems as they become developed?

A. Yes, some members have already been approached individually, and all members are invited to be user testers.

Q. Will there be access to reimbursement for accounting fees or financial counselling for Veterans, given the need to make financial decisions related to the new benefits? If a Veteran had already used the allotment for financial counselling previously at the time of receiving a Disability Award payment, would there be another allotment made available to them?

A. Yes, there is funding for financial counselling. The co-chair will check on the issue of providing another allotment if this had been previously used by the Veteran. Following the meeting an answer was provided: A person who receives a PSC in an amount that is equal to or greater than a 5% PSC will be eligible to receive reimbursement of fees for financial advice. This includes each new reassessment that may occur. The maximum amount that can be paid or reimbursed for financial advice is $500 per PSC. This means that $500 can be paid or reimbursed each and every time a person receives a new PSC. An individual can choose to be paid or reimbursed for financial advice fees after receiving the PSC amount as long as the application for payment or reimbursement is made within 12 months.

Q. What will happen to those Veterans who have accumulated money towards these benefits the current Retirement Income Security Benefit (RISB) and the Supplementary Retirement Benefit (SRB), which are currently paid out at 65 years?

A. The SRB (the 2% payout that normally happens at the age of 65) will be paid out as of March 31, 2019, the last day that this benefit remains under the Well-being Act. Anyone who was eligible for this benefit will be paid in a lump sum, based on the amount accumulated from the time of entering the Earnings Loss Benefit, up to March 31, 2019. For the RISB, the new Income Replacement Benefit is a benefit that begins before the age of 65 and continues after the age of 65, so while the current system sees Veterans move from the Earnings Loss Benefit to the RISB at age 65, under the new PFL benefits the IRB will continue after age 65, but moves from 90% of pre-release salary to 70%.

Q. How does the 20 year limit for the Career Progression factor consider someone whose career has changed during the time in the military? Possibly someone could be at the 15 year mark of their time in the CAF, but only in year one of a new career path within the military (i.e. medic) with possible career progression. If the career progression calculation ends at 20 years, how would this recognize the additional possible career progression that would have occurred?

A. More information will be provided to the group. As noted above, the following response was provided by the department: The career progression model is intended as a recognition factor and not as a replication factor meaning that it is not meant to replicate the income of a military salary over time but rather to recognize the loss of earnings capacity caused by the end of their military career. Twenty years was chosen as this is the median number of service years for officers (whereas the median number of service years for non-commissioned members was 13 years).

Q. Are there any anticipated problems with the information technology required for the implementation of the new benefits? What is being done to ensure there will not be a situation like Phoenix pay system? Will there be actual beta-testing of a certain percentage of the working platform, in order to ensure the proper feedback in advance of the implementation?

A. Our focus is on developing prototypes much faster so we can user test these prototypes and resolve technical issues as we progress to help ensure our technology works. This up-front work is helping to solve technical issues much earlier. There will be capacity testing done in advance of the launch of the system.

Q. A concern was raised that the Veteran community is anecdotally feeling that there are now three categories of VAC beneficiaries over time (those in receipt of the Pension Act benefits, those in receipt of the New Veterans Charter benefits, and those after April 1, 2019 in receipt of the Pension for Life benefits). It was suggested that Veterans falling under the latter will ultimately receive less, and it was felt the department should be accountable for being transparent about recognizing this. It was further suggested that critics are effectively silenced because they are grandfathered in, whereas new Veterans will be unaware they are receiving less than the previous regimes.

A. The VAC co-chair noted that message will be brought back to the Department.

Q. How is the calculation made to determine the additional monthly amount?

A. The VAC co-chair explained that this is an actuarial calculation from comparing what had been given as a Disability Award, compared to what would have been received had they been on the monthly amount under PFL’s Pain and Suffering Compensation, depending on the life expectancy and other annuity calculations for that individual. If there is a difference then the department will pay that monthly difference (i.e. the additional monthly amount). Please visit website for more information on PFL.

Q. Will there be measurable outcomes to show if the guiding principles are followed, for example the principle of using the benefit of the doubt?

A. The VAC co-chair noted that there is data available to show evidence of the principle of the benefit of the doubt, noting the increasing rates of favorable first level approvals.

Q. Will everything be functioning for all online browsers on April 1, 2019?

A. Yes, it is expected so, for all the major browsers.

Q. Will the new criteria and eligibility information be available prior to April 1, 2019, for those who are thinking about applying under Pension for Life benefits?

A. The VAC co-chair noted that all information possible will be provided publically, noting that there are potential restrictions required from a legal perspective.

Q. Will there be changes for Veterans receiving services such as psycho-social services for non service-related disabilities?

A. The VAC co-chair noted that the 120 day window to apply for benefits at VAC following medical release with non-service related disabilities will be phased out effective April 1, 2024.

3. Debrief on Homelessness Roundtable

The Director of Veterans Priority Programs Secretariat provided an overview of the VAC Roundtable on Homelessness, held on June 7, 2018 in Ottawa, which specifically focused on homeless and at-risk Veterans. The meeting brought together 65 local, regional, and national organizations to exchange and gain valuable information on the current state of homeless Veterans. The following highlights were provided:

  • The Roundtable on Homelessness was an opportunity to share ideas, to build on existing partnerships and create new ones. The two main objectives for the day were to
    • define the issues around homelessness in order to provide effective crisis response to homeless Veterans and Veterans in crisis.
    • strengthen the capacity of VAC area offices and partner organizations to identify and connect with homeless Veterans and Veterans in crisis.
  • Minister O’Regan provided opening remarks. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development (Housing and Urban Affairs), provided an overview of the Government of Canada’s National Housing Strategy, in which Veterans are recognized as a vulnerable population for homelessness. VAC officials also presented on the elements of the departmental Strategy to address Veteran homelessness.
  • A recurring theme throughout the day was the needed assurance of a seamless transition from military to civilian life, and this is required at all stages of transition, including pre-release, during release and post release.
  • The issue of a Veterans ID Card was brought up repeatedly, with participants noting how this would facilitate service verification, as well as assist in providing a sense of identity and comradery.
  • Agreement was expressed on the notion of collaboration between local, national and grass root organizations as key to preventing and reducing Veterans homelessness.

The Strategy on preventing and ending veteran homelessness is expected to be completed in the fall of 2018.

Questions and Answers

Q. Will the minutes of the roundtable be made public?

A. Yes, there will be records of the discussions published on the VAC website at a later date.

Q. What services are available now from the department for homeless Veterans?

A. The presenter noted that there are all the same services available to homeless Veterans as all other Veterans, but the focus at the Roundtable was to widely share information about the Veteran and Family Well-Being Fund, as well as the Veterans Emergency Fund, both very important for the organizations present to be made aware of. The VAC co-chair noted the particular effectiveness of the Emergency Fund that can be accessed with much greater flexibility, with discretion given to Area Office staff to make the decisions about dissemination of this funding, and without the emphasis on determining the relationship of a health problem to military service. It was also clarified that this funding is separate and distinct from what is provided to Veterans Emergency Transition Services (VETS) Canada for their outreach services to homeless and at-risk Veterans.

Q. Regarding determining service relationship for a homeless Veteran, is there a team working on fast-tracking this?

A. The co-chair noted that homeless Veterans are ‘red-zoned’, so effectively fast-tracked as much as possible.

4. Closing Remarks and Next Steps

The VAC co-chair thanked the group and noted the possibility of holding a meeting in September, 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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