In early February, Legion House in Kanata, Ont., was the site of a high-level gathering of stakeholders on veterans’ issues. Put together by the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) as a part of its 2015 series of roundtable discussions, the event was centred on presentations by Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent and National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman Gary Walbourne, followed by a discussion.
The meeting was held under the Chatham House Rule, which allows information from the meeting to be used, but without attribution–so what was said can be reported, but not who said it.
Approximately 50 people crowded into the Victory Boardroom for several hours of discussion. Among the notable attendees were Veteran Affairs Deputy Minister Walter Natynczyk, who retired as chief of the defence staff in 2012, MP Laurie Hawn, Senator Joe Day, retired major-general Richard Blanchette and Dominion Secretary Brad White. The meeting was chaired by the CDA’s Ray Henault, also a retired chief of the defence staff.
The general topic of the roundtable was regarding “improvements to the New Veterans Charter and the successful transition from military to civilian life.”
First, some facts and figures to establish some context: While there are approximately 694,000 veterans in Canada, VAC is dealing with a small number of those, around 140,400 under the Pension Act, and around 48,500 under the post-2006 New Veterans Charter. Between 5,000 and 7,000 CAF members release every year, with up to 20 per cent being medical releases.
The DND Ombudsman receives approximately 1,800 complaints a year, with over 50 per cent of all complaints having to do with end-of-career issues.
On the other hand, the Veterans Ombudsman receives around 7,000 contacts a year, mostly personal complaints which lead him to investigate systemic issues.
The general consensus in the room was that the current system of transitioning CAF members into civilians and then caring for them as veterans is too complex and too unfriendly to its users. It is a cumbersome, inefficient and slow-moving system with many holes needing to be patched. Many have been allowed to fall through the cracks.
The simple solution is to end the insurance-company approach and switch to a member-centric model. Stop relentlessly questioning veterans and making them jump through bureaucratic hoops, and just fix their problems. “Taxes are on faith, employment insurance is on faith; why can’t this be done on faith?” said one attendee, arguing that the focus should be on fixing problems, not on completing paperwork. “We just want to fix it. The fact is you’re unhappy and we want to do something about that.”