Opening Remarks: Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA)

Gary Walbourne -- DND/CF Ombudsman

Ottawa, ON | June 7, 2016


Mr. Chair, honourable members, thank you for inviting me to appear here today to provide my perspective on the delivery of services to veterans. 

As Ombudsman to the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces, my Office is completely independent of both military and civilian chains of command – reporting directly to the Minister of National Defence.

As an evidence-based, neutral organization, we do not advocate for any particular group within our large constituency base. We do however advocate for fairness – and to ensure application of any policy or process is fair.

Part of my constituency base is former members of the Canadian Forces.

If their issues involve the Canadian Forces or the Department of National Defence, they are my constituents. If it involves receipt of benefits and services from veterans affairs: over to the Veterans Ombudsman.

As you would expect, with overlapping constituents, our two offices work well together. In fact, several members of my team previously worked at the Veterans Ombudsman’s office – including myself as Deputy Veterans Ombudsman. 

Of the approximate 200k veteran clients we don’t hear from all of them – we hear from those that have fallen between the cracks.

Seamless transition for most ill or injured military members who require benefits and services remains a concept – not a reality – and is fraught with painstaking challenges.

Efforts to reduce complexity in service delivery have not provided the desired outcomes.

Many of the programs and services available are overlapping – others are frustratingly complex to navigate. 

For example, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces, Veterans Affairs Canada and SISIP – all three offer their own case managers and vocational programs. Some of the offered programs become inaccessible through simple lack of awareness on the part of the member or due to the complexity of the eligibility criteria.

It would be best to have one knowledgeable point of contact that you can trust for the entire journey.

It is no secret that there are endless forms and long delays in adjudications. Paperwork, and lots of it, remains the primary method to obtain benefits and services.

Presently, a file is transferred from DND/CF to Veterans Affairs, and then it goes for adjudication.  While the member waits, in some cases this could be for an extended period of time if there are complexities or nuances.

As far as adjudication goes, it is not acceptable that there is a 16-week service standard.

I believe all the evidence we need for the determination of attribution of service sits within the Canadian Forces. Before they will release a member, they work with this member for varying periods of time – depending on the malady or injury. We know where, when, and how the soldier has become ill or injured. 

In my opinion everything should and can be done before a member leaves the service.

One step to make life easier would be to start with determination of service attribution.

I think the biggest stumbling block, if we want to talk about ease of transition and access to care, probably starts right there.

I firmly believe the Canadian Forces is responsible to the member while they wear the uniform. I do believe if the Surgeon General's Office determined attribution to service, then Veterans Affairs can deliver their programs based on the needs of the client – considering the impact of the injury or malady.

I also do believe there will always be a need for some type of adjudication service at VAC, especially for operational stress injuries that sometimes manifest themselves later.

I routinely challenge my staff by asking what successful transition would look like from a member’s perspective.

Why? Well – there is a tendency for bureaucracies to search out process-centric solutions versus veteran-centric needs. For example, the Vets 2020 project: the problem with this is we are so focused on the project we forget to look at the outcomes.

As for easing the transition process, as I just mentioned, I am aware that the department is working very closely with Veterans Affairs Canada with their Vets 2020 project (now known as the Care, Compassionate Respect 2020). I know that there are many task forces that have been formed that have representatives from both entities participate. I do believe these types of conversations will help, but I also believe it’s going to have to go back to the core way in which we do business – a fundamental change to the service delivery model is absolutely critical.

There has been much fanfare about the reopening of offices and new hires in order to help fix shortfalls in service delivery.

I believe we should place as much, if not more effort, on changing the delivery model itself.

Doing the same thing over and over again – as we have done in the past – will not provide better results.

We must challenge the status quo methods of operating within departments.

My office is engaged in this effort and is currently considering what a new delivery model could look like from the transitioning member’s perspective.

This product may be of assistance to the committee. It will be available within the next 6 to 10 weeks.

The last comment I’d like to make, Mr. Chair, is concerning the families of these transitioning members. I do believe we can and should do more – whether that is access to mental healthcare, or some sort of financial help to assist them so that they may assist the transitioning member – is something that should be considered in our way forward.

I stand by to take any questions you may have.

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