By Dave Pugliese-THE OTTAWA CITIZEN-David Pugliese’s Defence Watch-April 18 2010

 Filed under: Veterans Affairs, Sean Bruyea

Editor’s note: Veteran’s advocate Sean Bruyea has written a report titled “Honouring Sacrifice with More than Words: A New Direction for Veterans and Veterans Affairs Canada Through Listening Directly to Veterans, Their Families and Frontline Employees.” It has been presented to the House Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

 The actual report is 37 pages long and Mr. Bruyea notes that it reflects the opinions of several hundred veterans, serving Canadian Forces (CF) members, the family members of both, medical practitioners, VAC employees and others. Here I have published a very very small excerpt plus Mr. Bruyea’s recommendations on improving the situation for veterans.

By Sean Bruyea

Defence Watch Guest Writer

Canada’s Afghanistan mission has provided a large and necessary push to changes in improving the care and treatment of both CF members and, and to a much less extent, veterans and their families. In July 2011 the combat mission ends. With this, it is likely that the spotlight on the military and veterans’ issues will also fade, despite the demands and tempo of military operation such as Haiti and other international missions. This could be disastrous to veterans programs as VAC is at least 10 years behind the CF’s initiatives.

As such, all major recommendations must be in place no later than July 2011 or else Canada’s government will once again be able to forget about its veterans except for November 11 and the one or two minutes each year we pay lip service to the duty we owe so many who sacrificed so much in Canada’s name.

1.    All Veterans Affairs Employees especially in the Head Office and Regional Office positions of all rank levels immediately be obligated to carry out 40 hours per year in direct contact with veterans and frontline employees including attending “Getting to Know Your Veteran” days which will consist of veterans and their families telling of their experiences in both the military and with Veterans Affairs Canada programs.

2.    Veterans Affairs Canada immediately set a target of 30% of all staff who must be veterans.

3.    Veterans Affairs Canada immediately designate all current and future vacated positions including senior managers as ‘veteran only’ with priority for disabled veterans until the 30% target is reached.

4.    Veterans Affairs Canada be integrated into Department of National Defence but exist as a separate entity and be allocated a separate budget to ensure operational requirements do not rob VAC of resources for the “care treatment and rehabilitation” of veterans and their families.

5.    Veterans Affairs Canada immediately cease filling open positions in Charlottetown with all open positions in Head Office being rewritten for employment in Ottawa.

6.    Veterans Affairs Canada gradually wind down operations in Charlottetown through mostly attrition and retirement, and transfer all operations of a policy formulation and national operations to Ottawa.

7.    Any changes to Veterans programmes and benefits must involve widespread public consultation directed and overseen by Parliament and not by bureaucrats.

8.     All Regional Offices (RO’s) implement hiring freezes and gradually be wound down with vacated positions being rewritten in terms of qualifications needed at District Offices (DO’s) and transferred to DO’s to provide them with much needed manpower.

9.    Serious consideration be given to removing 10 to 15% of Head Office positions and transferring the rewritten position to District Offices.

10.                  Head Office begin immediately to carry out open (unless confidentiality requested) and open-ended consultations with all frontline employees to reevaluate the way VAC does business. The resultant changes should be integrated with input received from open and open-ended consultations with veterans, CF and their families.

11.                  Outside private-sector efficiency experts be hired to carry out a Veterans Affairs wide evaluation as to whether positions in HO and RO are helping to fulfill services to veterans and their families or merely creating more unnecessary processes which are a detriment to all. District Office would be concomitantly evaluated to determine necessary manpower increases.

12.                  All frontline workers be immediately empowered to authorize more than just specialized medical devices but instead be given authority to authorize in conjunction with a team manager immediate approval for programs and services up to approximately $5000.

13.                  Treatment Authorization Centres be closed in favour of giving authorization powers to District Offices once the increased positions are filled.

14.                  Each Area Counsellor (AC) and Client Service Agent (CSA) work in a team being assigned a dedicated clerical position which can complete paperwork and input data in order to free up time for CSA’s and AC’s to interact and case manage clients.

15.                  It be officially recognized by Parliament and VAC that veterans and their families best understand what veterans and their families need from Canada, (including from VAC’s programs) and veterans and families are the best to understand how to communicate with veterans and families about VAC’s programs.

16.                  The majority of the VAC communication positions in Remembrance, Programs, Policy and Treatment employ veterans and veteran family members.

17.                  A specific Public Service-wide communication program be implemented with a training afternoon to receive briefings from veterans and CF members as to what makes military service so different from just another union job in the federal civil service.

18.                  A Canada-wide communication program be implemented to explain the costs of war, the sacrifices made by all, including those that did come home wounded, and the difference between a civilian job and work in the military. The program would then explain why disabled veterans receive more comprehensive and different benefits than those on an insurance plan or those working for the federal civil service.

19.                  Specific programs be developed for those disabled CF veterans (and their families) who were released from the CF prior to April 1, 2006 to both improve their quality of life and assist those willing to return to work.

20.                  Work programs be constructed to work closely with all sizes and types of employers to arrange for “co-op”-type programs to assist in acclimatization, gaining experience and determining employment desires of disabled veterans.

21.                  Gradual back-to-work regimes be initiated for disabled veterans to enter both the Public Service, all levels of government, universities and the private sector including various sizes and types of businesses. Wage subsidies and employment goals can be worked into agreements with employers.

22.                  In order to restore that sacred contract and solemn trust between Canada and its forgotten generation, an apology should be considered from the sitting Prime Minister to this forgotten generation and their families. The apology could be similar to that received by aboriginals in residential schools and Japanese interment camp victims. This apology would merely be the gateway to opening up a renovation of programmes and benefits to assist those that wished assistance.

23.                  A task force be established immediately consisting of disabled veteran advocates, disabled veterans, their families, community and business leaders, rehabilitation specialists and psychologists/psychiatrists to develop programs designed to improve the quality of life of this forgotten generation and assist them to return to society and the workplace.

24.                  All disability benefits be guaranteed in order to provide the secure foundation necessary in taking the very difficult step of returning to the work force and the fullest possible integration into society.

25.                  Long Term Disability Plans including SISIP and ELB be re-structured so that instead of fixed rehabilitation period, the programs provide the earnings loss indefinitely with graduated offsets for income received in order to provide incentive for disabled veteran to keep income earned.

26.                  The Veterans Affairs Committee unanimously call for the immediate cessation of the unfair deductions from SISIP long term disability income.

27.                  The immediate cessation of CPP disability associated claw backs of CF pensions for recipients of CPP disability pensions.

28.                  The federal government open up discussions to renegotiate the claw backs of the CPP retirement pensions.

29.                  The Lump sum of the New Veterans Charter be immediately replaced by a monthly Pension Act disability payment.

30.                  Begin paying those recipients of the NVC lump sum a Pension Act monthly disability pension including amounts for spouse and children if applicable while deducting the following amount monthly: the lump sum thus far paid out is mathematically converted into a monthly income in accordance with insurance industry standards for such calculations (and then deduct this amount from what the veteran or survivor would have otherwise received from a monthly Pension Act award for the same level of disability plus additional amounts for spouse and children). 

31.                  The financial advice provided for recipients of the lump sum be mandatory and the amount paid for such advice be equivalent to a minimum of $500 or 0.5% of the lump sum on an annual go forward basis in keeping with industry average costs of paying for a financial advisor.

32.                  Implement all 299 recommendations contained in the NVCAG report and the four reports from SNAG.

33.                  The mandate of the Veterans Ombudsman’s office be completely rewritten to comply with each of the 20 recommendations made in the Parliamentary Committee’s report, A Helping Hand for Veterans: Mandate for a Veterans Ombudsman”.

34.                  The Veterans Affairs Committee and Veterans Affairs Canada carefully review all of Canada’s first-ever Ombudsman Report on VAC (“VOICE Report”) to ensure that existing recommendations are implemented and that the many observations of problems areas in VAC’s operations and interactions are thoroughly addressed by either new policies or new legislation.

35.                  New Veterans Charter Advisory Group and Special Needs Advisory Group report to Minister as this will prevent compromising of independence by public service (i.e. VAC) officials.

36.                  New Veterans Charter Advisory Group and Special Needs Advisory Group contain veteran advocates as these advocates offer unfettered and direct links to many unrepresented stakeholders. Such advocates are unique in that their loyalty is to the well-being of veterans and their families and not to bureaucratic processes or group and/or professional affiliations.

37.                  New Veterans Charter Advisory Group and Special Needs Advisory Group current and future reports be made immediately public as is done by advisory committees in the United States.

38.                  New Veterans Charter Advisory Group and Special Needs Advisory Group be given unlimited timeframe to mandate.

39.                  New Veterans Charter Advisory Group and Special Needs Advisory Group rotate their chairs and members on a two to three year basis while staggering replacements so that corporate knowledge is not lost.

40.                  The minutes of and evidence from meetings of the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group and Special Needs Advisory Group minutes be made immediately public barring confidentiality of witnesses.