Testimony to House Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs-April 8, 2014-Opening Remarks

Opening Remarks: Sean Bruyea ACVA April 9 2014

Thank you most sincerely for your invitation to speak today.

Nine years ago Parliament passed the legislation we now know as the new veterans charter or NVC.  The Elected Members of the House of Commons never debated any of its clauses. They have yet to give serious independent and binding consideration of the dramatic changes that the NVC made to the relationship between Canada and those who were and are prepared to lay down their lives in her service.

In good faith, and I emphasize in good faith, far too many accepted the shoddy construction of the NVC because government promised to keep the renovations going. Near stagnant incrementalism, a dirty word in the first fifty years of veterans’ benefits in Canada has become the sad new social contract between Canada and, our veterans and their families.

As the unaddressed recommendations accumulate, will the NVC become increasingly unfit to provide adequate shelter for our veterans and their families in the coming years?
Veterans Affairs made pretenses to the glory of Canada’s post World War II veterans’ benefits. The original aptly named Veterans Charter provided a host of programs for all veterans, whether injured or not. In 2005 and 2010, I testified to Parliamentary Committees, providing evidence that the New Veterans Charter was not a charter at all but a cynical repackaging of already existing programs with but a few limited additions.

As for consultation, Treasury Board is unequivocal that consultation must be “clear, open and transparent” as well as incorporate input from the stakeholders. Consultation must also clearly justify in detail why input is rejected in any final drafts. Such two way exchanges have never occurred on anything called consultation carried out by VAC. Perhaps it is no surprise that VAC in its latest senior management brief, considers Project Code PC20 titled “Expand Outreach, Consultation and Engagement of NVC Programs…closed”’.

I was first to publicly raise concerns regarding the NVC along with Louise Richard, shortly followed by Harold Leduc.  The bureaucracy’s outrageous attempts to discredit me are in the public record, thanks to media attention and legal proceedings.  What is not on the public record is the bureaucracy’s motivation; they were hoping to silence me and intimidate my colleagues. A genuine debate of the merits of the New Veterans Charter is not in the interests of VAC.

Canadians go to war, fight, die, loose limbs, minds and families at your orders, for our values, our nation. They sacrifice to care for us. We do not do all of this for bureaucrats even though they may think differently. Then, why is it that Parliament through either inaction or inability has failed to stand up to the bureaucracy? Senator Dallaire has put on the record that the Minister in 2005 promised biennial reviews in committee. However, it took four years before this committee wrote its first report with 18 recommendations. Four years later, we are at it yet again with witnesses fighting to implement many of the same recommendations you included in your 2010 report.

Bureaucrats claim to have fully implemented and addressed 10 of your recommendations. However, I am unaware of any announcements of appropriate compensation for family members who take care of severely disabled veterans. Similarly, I’m still waiting for proof that VAC implemented (Quote)“as soon as possible the 16 framework recommendations made by the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group, including those entailing legislative or regulatory amendments.” One component of those recommendations: 100% earnings loss benefit tracking career progression and typical career earnings.

This is just a small sampling of the 160 recommendations that the Deputy Minister and her office claim they implemented. The DM certainly has the resources to creatively devise such claims as her staff has increased 500% in the past few years while veterans witness the closure of district offices and the removal of frontline worker positions at those which remain.

While veterans lose these trusted VAC workers, suicides continue, families fall apart through VAC inaction, veterans languish waiting for or being denied programs, and Deputy Minister Mary Chaput has received her performance bonus every year since her arrival at VAC three years ago.  Is it any wonder why veterans are angry?

Why is Parliament and the Prime Minister allowing bureaucrats to receive their performance pay while these senior bureaucrats fail to implement Parliament’s recommendations?

There are greater problems with the NVC than just the empty and specious rhetoric coming from Charlottetown. I have tabled 30 recommendations to consider for this comprehensive review in my report titled Severely Injured Veterans And Their Families: Improving Accessibility To Veterans Affairs Programs For A Better Transition.

As both sides of the Committee table have clearly observed, at VAC, availability of programs does not equate to accessibility. Why for instance should widows or spouses of incapacitated veterans be time limited on any program?

In the Pension Act, all programs were payable effectively on date of application. Why is the Earnings Loss Benefit payable when (Quote)

“The Minister determines that a rehabilitation plan or a vocational assistance plan should be developed”? Why are deductions for ELB increased annually when SISIP Long Term Disablity, the Public Service Disability Plans and many worker’s compensation programs freeze the deductions on the date the income replacement begins? Such pettiness is endemic in the New Veterans Charter.

Government is quick to march out the hypothetical 24 year old corporal from the Veterans Ombudsman report who is projected to receive from VAC $2 million over his lifetime. Ignoring that $350,000 must be repaid in taxes, when none of the Pension Act benefits are taxable, the sad reality is that this corporal does not represent the norm.

As of September 2013, of the 76,000 Canadian Forces Veterans who are clients of VAC, 941 received the permanent impairment allowance. One can only receive this allowance if one is declared Totally and Permanently Incapacitated or TPI, the most seriously disabled veterans.

Of this TPI population, only 38% have a disability assessment as high as the hypothetical Corporal and of those, only 22% are under the age of 45. This corporal represents fewer than77 individuals, or 0.1% of new veteran charter clients.

The Ombudsman noted of all the recipients of the Permanent Incapacity Allowance, only one receives the highest grade of $1,724.65 monthly. As for the highly controversial lump sum which now stands at $301,275.26, only 148, or 0.35% of all lump sum recipients have been awarded this amount in eight years.

It is interesting to note that these actuarial comparisons assume that VAC adjudicates similar injuries under the NVC at the same level as the Pension Act. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The average award given out by VAC prior to 1995 for World War II veterans was 40%. After adjudication guidelines changed in 1995, that average award sunk to just over 25%. Since the introduction of the New Veterans Charter in the middle of the harshest and most violent combat to which we have exposed our military since Korea, the average awards are now sitting at just over 15%. Not only is the disability award inadequate, but access to this benefit is heartlessly stingy.
Yes, there are other programs. Currently, only 14% of lump sum recipients are receiving additional benefits and only 2% have any long term economic assistance.

Of all those totally and permanently incapacitated veterans, none are allowed to access either career transition services or vocational rehabilitation.

Now, we already dehumanize those who most suffer from their service to Canada by freezing their economic potential at a fraction of often artificially low military salaries at release. By Preventing access to education and job assistance, as a nation we are in effect saying that we believe our most disabled veterans do not deserve to benefit from lifelong learning and vocational experiences, all proven to lower healthcare usage and increase well-being outcomes.

Contrary to the claim that the NVC offers opportunity with security, the reality shows us something different. Canada Pension Plan disability, once accused of being insensitive and lacking compassion now allows disabled recipients to receive up to $5100 annually without reporting it to CPP.

Even if a TPI veteran were to have CPP overlook these earnings, the VAC income loss program would deduct every single penny of this. Contrary to claims by VAC officials, veterans are not focused on disability nor were they with the Pension Act. Even with these onerous deductions, 35% of TPI veterans have a salary over $5000, indicating they would rather work and have their hard work mean little or nothing economically than not work at all.

Section 35(4) of the Pension Act however indicates:

“No deduction shall be made from the pension of any member of the forces because the member undertook work or perfected themself in some form of industry.” The Pension Act offered much security for the veteran to explore opportunities. Sadly, the NVC incarcerates our most suffering veterans in a psychological and financial prison of frozen human potential for the rest of their lives.

As for families, the legislated mandate of the Department defines both veteran and family as equals. However, families while the veteran is still alive, cannot access programs independently. The NVC only pays for family treatment in so far as it supports the veteran in his or her rehabilitation program.

We say we care about the career and health sacrifices of veterans’ spouses who do much to care for our seriously disabled veterans. In spite of repeated calls, we do not provide these spouses with any attendant allowance.

In 2005, the bureaucracy promised case management and psychosocial rehabilitation as part of slick sales job to sell the NVC to an unsuspecting parliament and population.  However, psychosocial rehabilitation does not exist in Canada in any measurable, consistent and accessible format as it is understood internationally. VAC did not have a viable definition until 2009, the same year the department was searching for a definition of Case Management in its own research report.

Arguably, Canada had the world’s best rehabilitation program for returning World War II veterans. We can achieve great things once again. One path to repeat this excellence is to sincerely pursue psychosocial rehabilitation for both physical and psychological disabilities. But it will take investment and more than a senior bureaucrats loathing of taking risks, incidentally the wrong personality type to be developing any new approach to an old social contract. Acceptable administrators, terrible innovators.

If we do nothing about the many NVC programs which are a disincentive to work, which focus on disability rather than ability, if we continue preventing opportunities for seriously ill veterans in our communities while we threaten their security, we know that, this will increase healthcare, treatment and pharmacological drug use. Such shortsightedness will negatively impact the health outcome of their family members while lowering the life expectancy of our most seriously injured.

Would it not be better to provide access to life-enriching education and opportunities to seek employment without penalty while these veterans in turn begin to pay more taxes, hence offsetting some of their disability costs? Does that not make better economic sense?

All veterans and their families especially the most seriously ill, fulfilled their obligation at government’s orders without delay, without complaint, without excuse. All they rightly expected was that government would honour their end of the contract immediately, expeditiously and for as long as those veterans and their families live.

For our most seriously injured veterans and their families, miserly constructed and administered programs have soundly violated this quid pro quo. Government is clearly not holding up its end of the bargain.

Prime Minister Harper during the launch of the New Veterans Charter in 2006, promised “In future, when our servicemen and women leave our military family, they can rest assured the Government will help them and their families’ transition to civilian life. Our troops’ commitment and service to Canada entitles them to the very best treatment possible. This Charter is but a first step towards according Canadian veterans the respect and support they deserve.” This was a promise from the current Prime Minister, not one from a century ago.

This dire situation wherein even the most loyal and timid of veterans organizations is speaking out is a very loud  alarm clock for our elected officials to stand up to a cruel bureaucracy and stand up for our veterans once and for all.

We must applaud this government’s commitment to Victims of Crime. However if government is willing to come to the aid of those innocent persons who are victims of mindless violence, it should do no less for those men and women that the Government has mindfully ordered into harm’s way.

Thank you

Full Report Sean submitted to Parliament April 08, 2014: