Budget 2017 Implementation – Can We Learn From our Mistakes?

Ottawa, ON - June 4, 2018

On April 1, 2018, Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) launched a number of new programs announced a year earlier in Budget 2017.  These include the Caregiver Recognition Benefit (replacing the Family Caregiver Relief Benefit), an Education and Training Benefit, a redesigned Career Transition Program, expanded access to Military Family Support Centers, a Veterans Emergency Fund, and a Veteran and Family Well-being Fund. Many of these new benefits address recommendations I’ve made in the past, and have the potential to provide greater support to Veterans and their families. 

Now that these programs are in effect, however, we have begun to receive complaints.  We’re hearing that information is unclear.  As well, because application forms and eligibility criteria were not available before the April 1, 2018, coming into force date, Veterans were left feeling anxious about their eligibility for the new programs, which does little to foster trust between Veterans and VAC.  Furthermore, because there was no consultation in advance on many of the details outlined in the regulations and policies, a number of issues have emerged and access to certain programs is being delayed or denied due to inaccurate language in the legislation leading to unintended consequences.

Specifically:

The Caregiver Recognition Benefit (CRB) replaces the Family Caregiver Relief Benefit (FCRB) and provides $1,000 tax-free to eligible informal caregivers.  I am happy that, for the first time, this benefit will be provided directly to the caregiver to recognize the contribution that they make to the health and well-being of ill and injured Veterans. 

  • While VAC had a year to plan for the transition of the 325 Veterans previously in receipt of the FCRB, forms to re-apply for the new benefit were only sent out on April 9th.  If the application was not submitted by April 30th,  the caregiver would not receive the monthly payment for April 2018.  As of May 15th, 91 of the 325 Veterans in receipt of the FCRB had been approved for the new benefit, meaning that most missed receiving their April payment.  As of May 31th, only 215 recipients have been moved to the new benefit, and as a result, 110 have missed  2 months of payments. Given the small numbers of recipients, why could VAC not have called each Veteran and obtained the information they needed to automatically move the Veteran to the new benefit and ensure that no-one lost any monthly payments?

The Veterans Education and Training Benefit (ETB) provides eligible Veterans with a taxable benefit of up to $80,000 to cover tuition, fees, supplies and other expenses for most formalized college or university programs. Veterans have 10 years to use this benefit from their date of release. It can help their transition to civilian life, achieve education and post-military employment goals, and pursue activities that give them purpose.  This benefit has the potential to help many Veterans since all Veterans with the minimum service requirement are eligible. 

  • A lack of eligibility information prior to the coming into force date of this benefit meant that Veterans could not confirm their eligibility prior to April 1, 2018.  The on-line application process through My VAC Account consists of five simple yes/no questions.  Why could this not have been shared prior to coming into force even if applications couldn’t be accepted until April 1?  Many post-secondary education programs commence in early May or September, and a greater understanding of eligibility for this benefit could have helped Veterans better plan their future. 
  • While we understand that serving members cannot receive this benefit, those who submitted requests to determine their eligibility were told they were ineligible even if they had the required number of years of service.  Perhaps it could have been explained that while they meet the years of service criteria, they would only be able to access the benefit once they release from the CAF. This would have put them in a better position to plan their transition.
  • Finally, an unintended consequence of the way the legislation is worded restricts access for Veterans who are part of the Supplementary Reserve as it is considered to be a component of the Reserve Force and therefore still serving.  In order to access the ETB, Veterans have to take their name off the Supplementary Reserve list.  I understand that in a 10 day period, over 24 members of the Supplementary Reserve have asked to be removed.  Veterans on the Supplementary Reserve list are not on active service.  They must volunteer to be put back on active service, and they do not receive any compensation or benefits. What the Supplementary Reserve provides in some cases is a “soft landing” during the transition to civilian life because it allows recently released members to remain connected. A lack of consultation and a lack of a common sense approach to implementation has resulted in delayed or denied access.

  
Veterans and Family Well-Being Fund provides grants and contributions to private, public or academic organizations to conduct research and implement initiatives and projects that support the well-being of Veterans and their families.

  • The opportunity to apply was sent out on May 4, 2018 to Veteran organizations and stakeholders with an initial deadline of June 15, 2018.  This provided only six weeks to assemble an application for a funding request of up to $1,000,000.  We understand VAC has now extended the deadline until June 29, 2018.  We will continue to monitor access to this benefit as the process proceeds.


In a year, VAC will be implementing Budget 2018 Pension for Life initiatives.  I hope that they will learn from Budget 2017 implementation, consult on program details, and share application forms and eligibility information ahead of the coming into force date.  This will go a long way towards easing anxiety and helping Veterans access what they’re entitled to.  

Veterans deserve no less!

Guy Parent
Veterans Ombudsman 

 

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Comments

Stéphane Parent said:

En tant que gestionnaire de projet PV, je suis heureux d'annoncer que nous avons déjà rencontré l'équipe du Budget 2017 pour recueillir leurs leçons apprises. Nous travaillerons sur tous les items identifiés, incluant ceux indiqués dans le blogue, pour améliorer l'expérience et les solutions aux vétérans.

June 6, 2018 1:54 PM

Stéphane Parent said:

As a PFL project manager, I am happy to report that we've already met with the Budget 2017 team and discussed their lessons learned. The points mentioned in blog are part of a larger set of action items we are pursuing to ensure we deliver an even better experience and solution to the Veterans.

June 6, 2018 1:50 PM

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