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Record of Discussion – Service Excellence Advisory Group Meeting

June 22, 2016
0830 – 1630 (EDT)
Alt Hotel Ottawa, 185 Slater Street, Ottawa, ON

This was the first face-to-face meeting with the Service Excellence Advisory Group (SEAG).

In Attendance

  • Joseph Burke, Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association
  • Sylvain Chartrand, Canadian Veterans Advocacy
  • Deanna Fimrite, Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada
  • Marie-Claude Gagnon, “It’s Just 700”
  • Mark Gaillard, RCMP Veterans’ Association
  • Charls Gendron, Royal Canadian Legion
  • Bev Hawton, Assistant Deputy Minister, Business Improvement Division, Service Ontario
  • Bruce Henwood, National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada
  • Captain (Retired) David Mack (Member Co-chair)
  • Corporal (Retired) Bruce Moncur
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Jamie Morse, Canadian Armed Forces Liaison Officer to Veterans Affairs Canada
  • Michel Doiron, Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery (VAC Co-chair)

Regrets

  • Captain (Retired) Dennis LeBlanc

Observer

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

1. Service Delivery Review

Following opening remarks by the Co-chairs, the Associate Deputy Minister provided initial findings of the Service Delivery Model Review currently being undertaken by VAC. A report to the Minister is due in September 2016, and input was requested from the Advisory Group to help shape and inform recommendations in the report. Members provided comments, observations or asked questions:

  • With respect to site visits being conducted, as part of the review across the country, is there advance notice to Veterans in the community so they can offer to participate? Have Reserves members/veterans been included in these visits? It was noted that this was not done but could be for future visits.
  • Will VAC provide Veterans with periodic updates on initiatives\activities that are in progress, for example the ID card, as “an act of good faith.”? Could the next Veterans Summit include an update on the findings and way ahead? Captured as possible agenda item.
  • There was discussion on how service delivery and service excellence are connected.
  • Communication is very important. There should be one place where Veterans can get information on what VAC can do to help. “I don’t know what I don’t know.” Push information out to Veterans and their Families rather than the Veteran needing to pull and extensively search for information on services and benefits.

The ADM Service Delivery provided an update on the office openings outlined in the Governments Real Change Agenda.

The Service Delivery Review Team then conducted a workshop and received input from the members. Questions posed by the review team included;

  • How/what the Department should be doing to achieve the service excellence vision?
  • What should VAC focus on to improve service delivery in the short (0 to 3 years), medium (3 to 5 years) and long (5 to 10 years) terms?

The group then discussed the link between the service delivery review and the mandate of the SEAG. Members provided input to the review team; highlights included:

Short term (0-3 years)

  • Simplifying the application process
  • Role of the Veteran Service Agent (how can this be more of a navigator)
  • My VAC Account system improvements
  • Culture Shift (from no to yes)
  • Veteran ID card
  • Increased involvement of families

Medium/Long Term

  • Training (using Veterans as case managers)
  • Veteran centric service
  • Taking the “cradle to grave approach”
  • Increased communication to veterans
  • Proactive enrollment to services you qualify for automatically (no application required)
  • Military education certification (like the American GI bill)

Their input and advice will be reviewed, considered and incorporated with findings already received from other Veterans, VAC staff and VAC site visits.

The VAC Co-chair suggested that the SEAG could meet in early September 2016, to be briefed on the final results of the Service Delivery Review. They could then provide additional input and advice to the Minister, further to the Service Delivery Review.

2. Mandate Letter

The VAC Co-chair spoke briefly about the Minister’s mandate letter and indicated that six of the commitments were approved for completion and nine remained in progress. He noted that task forces have been established to address some of the commitments with a view to some items being considered in the next budget cycle.

3. Vocational Rehabilitation

An update was provided on the changes/proposed changes that were/are being made to the New Veterans Charter which have had an impact on the Rehabilitation Services and Vocational Assistance Program. During the discussion, members were provided with an opportunity to ask questions, seek clarification and suggest changes. These included:

  • Clarification on the individual cap for training-related expenses for vocational rehabilitation and assistance.
  • The need for improved communication and information to Reservists on these programs, what they may be entitled to, and how to access it.
  • The need for the Veteran to be able to go to appointments (medical or psychological) after normal working hours if employed full-time and unable to take time off.
  • Simplification of the definitions and designations, such as permanent impairment allowance and totally and permanently incapacitated.
  • Clarification of program eligibility and why individuals might be removed from the program.
  • Removal of the 120 day time-limit to apply to the program.

4. My VAC Account: Service Ontario – Review and Initial Assessment

A presentation was provided by the Director Digital Services Transformation Branch, ServiceOntario on the initial usability testing assessment and review they conducted on My VAC Account. ServiceOntario provided a positive assessment of My VAC Account highlighting the website’s ease of navigation, consistency of experience and ease to locate available programs, feedback and call centre information.

Following the presentation highlights of the discussion included:

  • The lack of response/reply from VAC staff when a member/Veteran uses the secure messaging feature in My VAC Account.
  • The need for a secondary account for spouse/partner (such as a Representative Account similar to those with Canada Revenue Agency).
  • The need to be able to communicate directly with a Case Manager.
  • Concern with sign-in using personal bank information.
  • Difficulty with forms due to outdated software (Adobe for example)

Following the discussion, key recommendations put forward by ServiceOntario included:

  • the need for continuous low tech improvements;
  • supporting clients who wish to transact digitally while providing alternatives for those who cannot;
  • providing clients with opportunity to provide specific feedback through customer survey tools; and
  • the need for more focus groups with the appropriate representative groups to identify additional changes/improvements required to My VAC Account (as part of the design process, usability testing) (Veterans, Information Technology, policy etc)

5. The Way Ahead: Priorities and Work Plan

The member co-chair lead the discussion on the way ahead. Questions posed included:

  • Is there value in assisting VAC with the Service Delivery Review or do we stay within the mandate outlined in the Terms of Reference to provide advice and recommendations to the Minister on Service Excellence or do we do both?
  • What is the concept of “service excellence” and what do we want to achieve?

Discussion followed and it was agreed that more time was required to look at the way forward. A member offered to draft a straw-man proposal for review, initially by the co-chairs, followed by review by the members to generate some thinking around the work and priorities of the advisory group.

A short discussion took place on the preparation of minutes from meetings and if there was a need to have a member of the group also capture notes in addition to the note taker from VAC. It was agreed that VAC would continue to act in this capacity.

6. DND Policy Consultation: Defence Review and Closing the Seam

A short presentation was provided by the Director of Policy Development, Department of National Defence on the Defence Policy Review. SEAG members provided comments and input which will be reviewed, shared and used to inform a new defence policy to be released in early 2017. Highlights included:

Closing the Seam

  • More could be done to ensure that CAF members are fully aware of all of the VAC services available to veterans upon release.
  • The CAF and VAC should explore the idea of providing a single case manager for releasing members throughout the transition process.
  • The relationship between CAF members and VAC should be initiated much earlier than it is now, perhaps even at the very start of a military career.
  • VAC information sessions during the “Developmental Periods” of CAF members would help maintain awareness of available benefits and services. It also was suggested that CAF/VAC should look at the French model as a “best practice” in this area.
  • Differences in the level of support provided to serving members versus veterans should be addressed to create financial parity for those releasing (e.g., the caregiver allowance is higher from the CAF than from VAC).
  • Although privacy legislation is intended to protect people, the inability of CAF and VAC to share medical files affects quality of service – creative solutions are needed to address this issue.
  • In addition to closing the seam between the CAF and VAC, the seam between Regular and Reserve Forces should also be closed, including with respect to discrepancies in pay and benefits. “Reservists’ blood shouldn’t be worth less than Regular Force blood”.

Employer of Choice

  • Fulfilling the Government commitment to fund post-secondary education for veterans would significantly enhance the attractiveness of a military career.
  • More could be done to develop closer connections between the military and corporate Canada to enhance the confidence of CAF members that they will have an opportunity to transition into a well-paying job.
  • Keeping CAF members busy and engaged in the kind of activities they signed up for is important to morale, and by extension, to retention.
  • While more focus is rightfully being placed on recruiting diversity, more emphasis should be put on retaining diversity; for example, by employing gender-based analysis in the design of personal equipment.
  • The Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year (ALOY) is a great and very successful initiative (many participants are joining the CAF at the end of the program). The number of positions available on this program should be doubled to accommodate more interested Aboriginal people.

Military Families

  • Support offered to families on CAF bases should be brought up to date (it is currently based on “1950s mentality”), and more consideration should be given to working spouses who need better, more flexible child care support options.
  • Military Family Resource Centres should be modified to be jointly run by the CAF and VAC to offer more seamless support to families in transition.

Sexual Trauma in the Military Workplace

  • More research should be conducted and more services offered to support CAF members and veterans dealing with sexual trauma.
  • Many victims of sexual trauma who leave the CAF do so on grounds other than medical release, which restricts their access to care and programmes, including vocational rehabilitation. This needs to be addressed.
  • The first reaction to instances of sexual trauma should not be to move the victim to another work area – this only reduces the likelihood of reporting.
  • A threat assessment should be conducted to determine whether steps need to be taken to ensure the safety of alleged victims during investigation processes.
  • Optional screening for sexual trauma at the end of a deployment and when releasing should be offered.
  • Services of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre should be extended to ex-military members.
  • Those who have suffered occupational stress injuries should have equal access to benefits, programmes and services for those who have suffered operational stress injuries.
  • Military sexual assault should be included in the CF-98 injury report process to help track injuries and to facilitate possible VAC benefits and support requests.

7. Closing Remarks and Next Steps

The co-chairs thanked everyone for attendance and participation. It was proposed that the SEAG meet face-to-face in September, and before the next stakeholder summit. The meeting will focus on the work of the Advisory Group and participation of invited presenters will be limited. If required, teleconferences could be arranged as well over the summer.

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