Let’s get veterans’ issues right this time
Ottawa, ON - December 10, 2015
This text was authored by Guy Parent, Veterans Ombudsman, and originally published in The Hill Times on Monday, December 7, 2015.
It is almost ten years since Parliament unanimously passed the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act, commonly known as the New Veterans Charter. The rationale for creating this new piece of legislation, which resulted in a new suite of programs, was that the Pension Act was not meeting the immediate needs of modern Veterans and their families at a time when Canada was taking on an increased role in Afghanistan.
Ten years ago, it was seen as visionary in its embrace of the principles of modern disability management. Its overarching focus was on wellness, as opposed to the Pension Act’s concentration on disability. It was to be a ‘living’ Charter with timely updates to balance out its imperfections and keep pace with the evolving needs of Veterans, but that fell by the wayside.
So, what went wrong over the last decade and what do we need to do to get it right this time?
First, the legislation was adopted too fast without a clause-by-clause review in a House of Commons or Senate Committee. Because of this, the sufficiency, adequacy and interrelationships of some of the Charter’s benefits were not fully considered in its design stage. This has resulted in the complex patchwork of benefits we have today – understood by few and delivering sometimes unintentional, negative consequences to Veterans.
Second, despite Veterans and their families, Veterans’ organizations, Veterans’ advocates and my Office repeatedly bringing to decision makers’ attention the gaps in the Charter that need to be closed, these gaps were not addressed fully or in a timely manner to meet the needs of Veterans. The New Veterans Charter never became the ‘living’ document promised.
Third, it often seemed to the Veterans’ community that the only way to achieve change was by publically pressuring the Government. Public pressuring of Government is not something that comes naturally to Veterans; it is not a part of the military ethos. Going forward, Veterans should not be put in a position again whereby they believe that the only way that they can get their message through to Government is by going public.
Fast forward to today. Canadians have elected a new Government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised real change for Veterans. In his mandate letter to the Honourable Kent Hehr, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, he has made public 15 individual commitments that he expects the Minister to deliver on over the next four years. This is good news for Veterans and their families. It gives them a roadmap of this Government’s intent and clear benchmarks to measure progress against.
While there are some items on the list that lend themselves to being achieved in a relatively short time frame (e.g. re-opening Veterans’ offices), there are others of a more complex nature that will take time to get it right (e.g. re-establishing lifelong pensions, as an option). This is important because when issues are complex and interdependent, too much haste and not enough evidence-based analysis can lead to negative outcomes for Veterans. Plus it can overshadow the real opportunity that is before us to provide whole-system change.
To get it right this time, it is important that we focus on outcomes because this forces us to address the complexity of how we do business. For instance, if the focus is on delivering a monthly pension and not lifelong financial security, then we may end up with Veterans in receipt of a monthly pension, but who are not financially secure in their old age. If our goal is to make them financially secure, the monthly pension just becomes one of many ways to achieve that outcome.
The Prime Minister has also pledged that the Government’s work will be informed by performance measurement, evidence, and feedback from Canadians. This too is good news for Veterans and their families, because to get it right this time, evidence-based policies need to be the norm, and tracking outcomes, rather than outputs, should be the performance measure for which we strive.
The Government has also committed to setting a higher bar for openness and transparency, and that is also good news for Veterans. Last week’s Veterans Affairs Canada’s Stakeholders’ Summit set the right starting tone. The Department now needs to build on this foundation and increase its collaboration with Veterans and their families, Veterans’ organizations and Veterans’ advocates to determine how best it can support them. It also needs to be more open and transparent with all information that affects Veterans.
Finally, getting it right is not only about what needs to be done, it is also about how we get it done. If we seriously want to reduce the complexity of benefits and overhaul service delivery for Veterans, it is going to require more than just tinkering with a few benefits, it is going to require a visionary approach. That is why the values framework in the Prime Minister’s mandate letter is an important to guide to all future actions because it provides the important values framework within which the priorities are to be designed and implemented.
What Veterans and their families, as well as Canadians, are going to remember is the end result, and we need to get it right this time.
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