Highlights of a Stakeholder Engagement Meeting Sponsored by the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman - Halifax, NS, June 15, 2016
The views expressed in this summary are those of individuals and do not represent the views of the Veterans Ombudsman and his office.
- The Ombudsman opened the session by emphasizing the need for consultation and dialogue with the Veterans' community to better understand their concerns. He presented the Office's plans and priorities and outlined some challenges faced by Veterans, in particular Veterans' compensation and support to Veterans' families. He underlined that fairness was a guiding principle of his Office's work and stressed that his Reviews and Reports are all evidence-based.
Participants were asked to provide their comments on Veterans' issues in their communities. Here is a sampling of some of the issues raised:
1. Transition from Military to Civilian Life
- Although there is lots being done on transition from military to civilian life, there is still a large gap in relation to finding medical care after release, especially for those with psychological and chronic care conditions.
- Veterans should be able to manage their own medical records. In the United States, members are responsible for their medical file and they bring their file with them to each new caregiver.
- There is a need for enhanced transition services and referrals to VAC case managers earlier to start the handover to civilian medical treatment. Many transitioning members are confused with the number of case managers, how to complete application packages, etc. Some participants suggested that a transition navigator should be considered to help coordinate these Veterans' care.
Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent suggested that one of the centres of excellence should be a transition centre. He also reported that he and his team are working with the DND/CF Ombudsman on transition.
- Many mental health issues are attributed to Operational Stress Injuries (OSIs), but they are really related to their core sense of identity. If there was a course that taught how to take off the uniform, relinquish the military identity and take on a civilian identity, it would be very helpful.
- The Commissionaires are the largest employer of Veterans in Nova Scotia, and possibly in Canada. The organization is experienced in helping Veterans transition from military to civilian life and could give Veterans hope as they begin a new productive way of life.
Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent said that this information and opportunity needs to be communicated more widely to transitioning Veterans.
2. Families and Veterans
Spouses of Veterans
- The need for spousal treatment does not end with divorce, but a divorced spouse is not eligible despite the children being eligible. Divorced spouses should be grandfathered so that they can also receive the training, therapy and treatment.
Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent noted that spouses are still responsible for the children and served with the Veteran.
Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC)
- The Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC) mandate should be changed to allow access to all serving members and Veterans in the 33 centres across the country – fully funded through a partnership between DND and VAC. Currently, a MFRC pilot project is testing that possibility.
Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent suggested also that families need to get involved in the Defence Review and indicate their MFRC requirements.
3. Long-Term Care for Veterans
- Long-term care for modern Veterans needs to become a priority. While Veterans Independence Program (VIP) helps Veterans to stay in their own home longer, Assisted Living facilities could bridge the gap to Long Term Care.
Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent concurred that Veterans Affairs Canada and the Veterans' community need to focus on shaping tomorrow's continuum of care for aging Veterans. He referred to his 2014 report, Long-Term Care Needs: A Review of Assisted Living Options for Veterans, and said Assisted Living could help bridge the gap to Long Term Care in cases where the Veteran's situation could accommodate it.
4. Service Delivery
- Case managers appear to be overtasked and are not communicating the plethora of services available to Veterans. Family members are filling out the forms, but they are not always familiar with the benefits and eligibility regime.
- Coordination between Veterans Affairs Canada case managers and their equivalent in other programs in which the Veteran may be enrolled is lacking. Case managers should be coordinating all programs for individual Veterans and they should be taking a patient outcome approach as opposed to the current eligibility approach.
Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent agreed that there is a difference between managing a patient and managing a situation. He also noted the oftentimes confusion about Canadian Armed Forces programs and Veterans Affairs Canada programs.
5. Housing issues
- Veterans' homelessness and finding affordable housing was discussed, and one question to be determined is should Veterans be designated a priority for housing. A question was also asked about whether municipal libraries could play a role in helping transitioning Veterans. For example, there are 14 branches in the Halifax Regional Municipality that serve as a community support centre for newcomers, released prisoners, etc., and perhaps programing for transitioning Veterans could be added and partnerships could be developed for those with specialized needs. Others noted that the Legion has a Porch Light program for Veterans to come together and meet and library branches might be a good place for this activity.
Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent said that different levels of government need to be involved in key Veterans' issues and used homelessness as an example where municipal, provincial and federal government are engaged, but their efforts need to be better coordinated. With respect to using libraries as meeting places for Veterans, he said that he thought that a lot of Veteran retirees would volunteer to be "ambassadors" and guide Veterans through the services that are available.
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