Opening Remarks: House Of Commons Standing Committee On Veterans Affairs (ACVA)

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February 13, 2018
Opening Remarks by Gary Walbourne



 Thank you Mr. Chair, and thank you to the committee for inviting me here today.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am entering the last year of my mandate. This may well be the last time I appear before this committee to discuss transition from military to civilian life. On the subject of a “seamless” transition, I believe the cycle of constant review is doing more harm than good to current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

This committee is currently studying the “Barriers to Transition”. The barriers are well-known. Hundreds of recommendations have been made by this committee and others, over the course of successive governments, to fix them. Dozens of recommendations have been accepted and implemented – however, many more have not.

Ladies and gentlemen of this committee, in 2010, Veterans Affairs Canada conducted a major study on transition in concert with Statistics Canada. A related study with Statistics Canada was also done in 2012. The release of the results of another Statistics Canada survey of 400 Canadian Armed Forces Members, Veterans, and their families on the subject of “Transition and Well-Being” is anticipated this month. I can guarantee you that those results will tell us what we already know. Enough is enough.

Prior to this committee appearance, I circulated my testimony at previous committee appearances. The points I will make on transition today are the same ones made in reports produced by my office. I believe that much of what you are looking for has already been presented by myself and other witnesses.

If, at the end of my appearance here today, I have persuaded you to shift direction and focus on implementing what has already been studied, then I – indeed all of us here today – will be doing right by our transitioning members. They do not need another study into transition. We do not need another study into transition.  We know what needs to be done. We just need to do it.  

So what I would respectfully suggest to members of this committee is that you take a hard look at why – after years of studies and ignored recommendations – so little has been done.  

Senior leadership needs to be held accountable with implementation – not tasked with more research.

The recommendations that I have made to the government are scarcely given credence. This includes one simple recommendation that would greatly benefit our transitioning members: authorizing the Canadian Armed Forces to determine if a member’s illness or injury can be attributed to service.

As I have said, the Canadian Armed Forces knows when, where, and how a member becomes ill or injured. The Canadian Armed Forces should tell Veterans Affairs Canada that the illness or injury is attributable to their service, and this determination be accepted.

This recommendation would decrease wait-times for veterans` services and benefits significantly. I made this recommendation in 2016, and Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces keep passing the hot-potato back and forth – creating some very fanciful excuses as to why it cannot / “should not” be done. The only thing they seem to agree on is maintaining the status quo at all costs. That is a problem of bureaucracy: it serves itself.

Between the two parliamentary committees – both ACVA and NDDN – there have been 14 studies conducted. One-hundred and ninety recommendations made. The Office of the Veterans Ombudsman and my Office have also made a number of recommendations. As all of you are aware, my recommendations are based in evidence. Evidence is not invented – it is uncovered. True to mandate, everything our office publishes is evidence-based and factual. In order to contribute to lasting improvements for the Defence community, we take our research seriously. Evidence-based decision-making is championed across government. Political parties and senior public servants commit to its principles.

However, my fear is that little of what our government does for its ill and injured members is measured in a way that can be easily understood. The outcomes of various programs are simply not well-known. Yes, there is some tracking on turnaround times, on adjudications and some basic operational items. However, there is no reporting on rehabilitation programming and other key indicators that any private-sector benefits administrator would normally track.

As a result, current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces, Members of Parliament, Senators, and the Canadian public have an incomplete picture of where the issues lie. To change what ails us, the bureaucratic approach and the bureaucratic systems need to fundamentally change. We need a transition process informed by evidence-based, user-centeric design. It is not enough to try and fix inefficiencies here and there when the system itself is broken.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a five-year appointment – I know the exact date that I will vacate my office. Similarly, you, as Members of Parliament, know roughly when you will have to seek re-election. We do what we do because we want to make positive and lasting changes for our constituencies. Bureaucracies cannot do this for us. If you want real change, I encourage you to pressure senior leadership and hold them accountable to measurable promises. Please, take a hard look at some of the evidence-based solutions that have already been suggested.

Of course, there is a need to be up-to-date on the subject of transition, and it is helpful to be aware of best practices and other solutions that may be adapted to the Canadian military context. However, I fear that a redundancy of studies feeds only the bureaucracy. It lets senior leadership off the hook. When questioned, one can respond with: “we are studying it”. The ill and injured continue to lose out.

I, like the Veterans Ombudsman, have begun publishing report cards that reflect the status and effort that has gone into implementing “accepted” recommendations.

It is my humble opinion that asking the government why accepted recommendations have not been implemented will bring timelier, more concrete results than doing an additional study.

The current system is broken. It can be fixed. Please, do not be an impediment to transition by standing in the way of action. The people who make up all members of the Defence Community are important. I ask that we stop defending positions on the subject of transition that are indefensible.

I now stand ready for your questions.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

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