March 1, 2022 – Please see our article from the March 2022 issue of Esprit de Corps magazine titled "Major Breakthrough in Veterans' Treatment Benefits."
I would advise that this important policy initiative was discussed at considerable length at the Deputy Minister's Coffee Group meeting on February 18, 2022.
The Coffee Group sessions include senior officials of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and senior Ministerial staff, together with major veteran stakeholders.
As part and parcel of the Coffee Group exchanges, we pressed the department on the ongoing salient concerns surrounding priority issues impacting the veterans' community:
We are strongly recommending the extension of the above-cited VAC automatic treatment benefit policy for physically disabled veterans (not just veterans with mental health conditions), with particular emphasis on seriously disabled veterans (including war amputees).
N.B.: The Deputy Minister, Paul Ledwell, is cognizant that this half-measure needs to be expanded as the next natural stage of development by the department.
We are demanding assurance from senior officials that the evidence required for eligibility for this new departmental program is appropriately streamlined so that the department's protocols do not stand in the way of the immediate entitlement for the treatment benefit/health care required by the veteran.
N.B.: We received some assurance that this would be addressed in the veterans' health care regulations and policy guidelines relevant to the treatment benefit program – we will want to keep an eye on the actual administration of the program, which commences April 1, 2022.
We particularly focused on compelling VAC to implement the extremely helpful proposals of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA) Report 2021 re: the backlog/wait time crisis, with particular reference to the recommendations as to automatic entitlement for common disabilities and the utilization of a Veterans Emergency Fund as a stop-gap measure.
N.B.: The Deputy Minister is mindful of the need to consider the implementation of the ACVA recommendations in order to ameliorate the current unacceptable delays in the VAC system.
We pursued the Deputy Minister on the priority need to extend the contracts of temporary employees with the department involved in adjudication and case management beyond March 2022 so as to address the backlog/wait time dilemma – unfortunately, this budgetary provision as of the date of the Coffee Group meeting had yet to be attained by the Minister and senior officials, which was quite shocking!
N.B.: Good news! As I am drafting this report, Minister MacAulay has just announced an additional government investment of $139.6 million over the next two years to ostensibly extend 595 VAC positions to assist in alleviating the backlog. Notwithstanding this announcement, we (along with the Parliamentary Budget Officer) remain of the view that increased staffing alone will not cure the backlog/wait time conundrum and that more fundamental change in strategy is required, as outlined in our NCVA Legislative Program 2021-22.
Our major objective through the Coffee Group dialogue is to keep VAC on the path of systemic change with respect to adjudication of veterans' claims.
As we have learned over the years, the machinery of government does not move quickly. Although positive incremental change is occurring on a number of fronts, the departmental bureaucracy needs to be stimulated and engaged on a consistent basis to finalize many of these significant recommendations.
It is of interest to note that, in his opening comments, new Deputy Minister Paul Ledwell confirmed that the Ministerial Advisory Groups will reconvene in the near future as membership additions are being formulated by the Minister's Office at this time. With respect to the Policy Advisory Group, which I currently co-chair with Andrea Siew, we are awaiting the appointment of a new ADM, Strategic Policy & Commemoration – Crystal Garrett-Baird is presently the Acting ADM and, should she be permanently appointed, she would in all probability become the co-chair to the PAG.
I will keep you posted as to further developments on all of these points.
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