Veterans Affairs´ spending is not top heavy, says Thompson

By Minister of Veterans Affairs Greg Thompson-THE HILL TIMES-February 11, 2008

It is with great regret that I must write for the second time in two weeks to correct the same error in The Hill Times. But, once again, your Feb. 4 edition contains a column, “Veterans Affairs Minister Thompson should be building trust and showing more compassion,” (by Sean Bruyea, p. 17) incorrectly claiming that 30 cents out of every dollar spent by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) goes toward administering programs. As I wrote two weeks ago, the real figure is 11.4 cents.

As the minister of Veterans Affairs, I feel obliged, again, to reassure your readers particularly those veterans reading your newspaper that our program spending is not top heavy. Allow me to explain.

Under Treasury Board rules, all departmental spending in our performance reports is shown under three categories: operating expenditures, capital expenditures, and grants and contributions.

For most departments, operating expenditures consist solely of administration and overhead costs. That means such things as salaries, professional services, supplies, rentals, and other costs required to deliver a program.

However, Veterans Affairs Canada is unique in this regard. VAC also purchases goods and services on behalf of our veterans. This includes such things as prescription drugs, dental, audio and visual services, special equipment and long-term care in non-departmental hospitals.

Because these goods and services are not capital expenditures and are not expenditures made through a grant or contribution, they must be included in VAC´s operating expenditures. And these purchases accounted for $538.1-million out of the $882.4-million listed for our operating expenditures in our 2006-07 Performance Report.

That means that only $344.3-million from our overall budget of $3.028-billion actually goes toward what other federal departments would consider their administration and overhead costs. In our case, that amounts to 11.4 cents out of every dollar is spent administering federal programs on behalf of our Veterans a rate that is within the generally accepted level for any organization.

Before I close, however, I also want to repeat as I did two weeks ago that I do not think Veterans Affairs Canada is perfect. We know we can do even better serving our veterans. And we also know that no matter how much more we do, it will never be enough to repay the great debt we owe the men and women who have always served Canada so courageously.

But is Veterans Affairs Canada a department in crisis? Hardly. It is, instead, a department in transition a department changing with the times and the new needs of our modern-day veterans. (While remaining true to our traditional, war-time veterans.)

That´s why, for example, we are doubling the number of operational stress injury clinics operated by Veterans Affairs Canada. And that´s why we are adding more front-line staff to serve our veterans.

I would add that the reason we have adopted a Veterans Bill of Rights and a veterans ombudsman is because it was the right thing to do for our veterans, who had been asking for such measures for decades.We promised in the 2006 election to act on both of these outstanding requests, and we have delivered. Proudly.

That is our record. We have, at every turn, happily sided with our veterans. And we will remain here for them. Every one of them.

Veterans Affairs Minister

Greg Thompson

New Brunswick South, N.B.