September 17, 2019
Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau Leader, Liberal Party of Canada 350 Albert Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6M8
On behalf of the women and men of the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees who have the honour of serving Canada’s veterans and their families, we hope that you will consider the questions we are posing to you and to all political leaders during this federal election campaign.
We will share your response with our members and our friends and allies who support better care and services for those who have served Canada so well.
In recent years there are a number of troubling trends that we have witnessed in our care for veterans at Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). They are increased waitlist and times for service delivery, an increase in demands on staff and a funding model that simply does not work to deliver services to veterans in a timely and effective manner.
We have watched as the waitlists for veterans to find out if they qualify for financial assistance has grown from a low of 11,000 in 2018 to over 40,000 veterans today. The average wait time is now over 16 weeks. That has left veterans and their families in extremely stressful situations and has made lives difficult for them and those who are trying to serve them. Regular caseload assignment to the service standard of 12 weeks is rarely met and most cases do not even get assigned for 8-10 weeks. Requests for assistance for service-related injuries takes even longer. VAC admitted in July 2019 that the waitlist for those requests was 32 weeks. Double the published service standard.
Question: What specific measures would you and your party take to reduce the waitlist for veterans and their families who apply to VAC for services?
VAC staff across the country are frantically trying to keep up with expanding workloads and are on average working an excessive amount of overtime. There are vacant positions because of staff stress and burnout and that work is being assigned to the remaining staff. This in turn creates more overtime, more burnout and more delays for our veterans. The latest number we have is that overtime costs are roughly $2 million
dollars a year for VAC across the country with many case managers working extra hours every day, both paid and unpaid, in order to service our veterans. Those monies could be better used to improve and enhance services to veterans and their families.
Question: What specific measures would you and your party take to reduce the excessive overtime at VAC and would you support the hiring of additional staff to serve Canada’s veterans?
There have been some sporadic increases to VAC funding and the hiring of some additional staff to deal with the most serious backlogs in the system. But this so-called surge funding has only allowed the department to plug some leaks on a very leaky ship. There are still many veterans who have to wait too long and some who never receive the support and care they need until it is too late. We need solid, secure and stable funding that allows service standards to be met and that leave no current or future veteran or their family behind.
Question: Would you and your party support solid, secure and stable funding that allows service standards at VAC to be met and that leave no current or future veteran or their family behind?
Thank you for considering this request and we look forward to your response and working with you to help enhance and improve the lives of Canada’s veterans and their families.
Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees
Liberal Party Response received October 10, 2019
Inside the body of an email to the letter I sent them Sept 17, 2019. No letterhead or anything from them. It was sent by someone in the ‘Liberal Party of Canada National Campaign’
What specific measures would you and your party take to reduce the waitlist for veterans and their families who apply to VAC for services?
To ensure that our veterans have access to high-quality mental health care when and where they need it, we will move forward with a new rapid-response service staffed by social workers, case management counsellors, and peer support workers. We will proactively reach out to every Canadian veteran to make sure that they know about the help available, and how to access it.
To help ease the stigma that many may feel about starting a disability claim, and to make sure that every veteran gets the help they need, we will give our veterans up to $3,000 in free counselling services before a disability claim is required. This will give veterans in need of help nearly six months of free support, provided directly by VAC or one if its service partners, and will help as many as 20,000 veterans each year.
Together, these two measures will help to reduce wait times for veterans and their families, while also ensuring better and more efficient mental health supports sooner. Fewer veterans and their families will be left with out of pocket expenses, which only increases the pressure they are feeling during this difficult period.
What specific measures would you and your party take to reduce the excessive overtime at VAC and would you support the hiring of additional staff to serve Canada’s veterans?
As mentioned, moving forward with a new rapid-response service staffed by social workers,
case management counsellors, and peer support workers will help veterans get an easier start to accessing services. At the same time, this new rapid response service will help to ease some of the burden on overworked front-line VAC case management workers. The benefits process will also be simplified and shortened by introducing automatic approval for the most common disability applications, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and arthritis, among others.
In Budget 2018, we also committed $42.8 million to specifically assist with the service backlog by hiring more staff. While much of this hiring has been done, we also continue to ensure well
qualified staff are hired up and we will continue to use those resources to get more staff, meaning a continued decrease in the work burden and less overtime overall. We recognize that more work needs to be done and remain committed to provide Veterans and their families the benefits they need, when they need them.
Would you and your party support solid, secure and stable funding that allows service standards at VAC to be met that leave no current or future veteran or their family behind?
As announced in the 2019 Budget, we have begun investing an additional $135.1 million in six years, with $24.4 per year ongoing, devoted to a variety of measures that will improve VAC’s service standards.
Many of these measures will be focused on the crucial period of transition for veterans when they leave the CAF and encounter new challenges in post-service life. They include:
- Expanding access to support provided by the Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group to ensure that more members of the Canadian Armed Forces benefit from personalized support services;
- Enhancing training available on transitioning to civilian life, to improve members of the Canadian Armed Forces’ knowledge of programs, benefits and available services;
- Launching a new online questionnaire to help VAC identify CAF members at risk of adifficult transition, so they can be proactively informed about services and benefits;
- Making benefit application and information sharing between VAC and DND simpler andmore streamlined; and
- Launching a personalized transition guide, available through a service member’s MyVAC Account, to help them better navigate the process from beginning to end.After ten years of neglect by the previous government, including cuts to services and funding, and office closures, our government has invested over $10.25 billion, over the past four years, into better care, support, and services for Veterans and their families. Our goal, if re-elected, will be to ensure all veterans, including the most vulnerable, are better off than they were.