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GUY PARENT: A new continuum of care for veterans

Veterans Affairs Canada bureaucrats have made marginal progress in reducing a backlog of new disability claims by medically discharged veterans.
 (Reuters)
Veterans Affairs Canada bureaucrats have made marginal progress in reducing a backlog of new disability claims by medically discharged veterans. (Reuters) - FILE

Adapting to changing needs of veterans and their families, as they require more support

There’s a demographic shift underway within the veteran population that Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) serves that is opening up a unique window of opportunity for injured and aging veterans and their families. For the first time in recent generations, the Continuum of Care pathway, from homecare to long-term care that many find themselves on, can be re-designed to better suit their needs.

Today, both VAC’s Veterans Independence Program (VIP), which provides services to keep veterans in their homes longer, and its Long Term Care Program (LTC) are poised for large shifts in the composition of their client base.

As of March 2016, 56,000 veterans received benefits through VIP and this number will decrease by 8 per cent to 47,000 by 2020. As well, while there were 6,400 inpatient veterans at LTC facilities today, by 2026 this number will decrease by 65 per cent to 2,300 veterans.

This significant decrease in veterans accessing these services will result in a $143 M reduction in program costs. This is money that potentially could be re-invested in improving access to these programs.

The main reason for this decrease in numbers is that veterans from the Second World War and Korea have, by design, been given better access to continuum of care benefits than Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) veterans who did not serve in those conflicts. Now, 72 years after the end of Second World War the numbers of War Service Veterans are declining rapidly.

But, CAF operations have not stopped. For example, more than 40,000 CAF members served in Afghanistan, yet these veterans do not have the same access to VAC LTC support as did the 26,000 veterans who served in Korea.

As seven decades of post war service have shown, every CAF operation comes with risk and personal sacrifice. There is no distinction in the sacrifice made by veterans and their families, but yet a distinction is made for benefits based on when and where a veteran served.

I believe that veteran benefits and services need to be flexible enough to move and adapt seamlessly with veterans as their needs and care situations change. They should be available to veterans who need them when and where they are needed and with eligibility criteria that is simple and determined only once.

But, that is not the way it is today. Rather today’s veterans are forced into a complex regime originally designed for post-Second World War and Korean War veterans.

Injured veterans and their families deserve the best service possible. That’s not happening today for our aging veterans. However, the changing demographics provide an opportunity to re-invest in Canada’s commitment to its injured and aging veterans.

Recently I released my Continuum of Care for Veterans Report. In it, I recommended seven changes to help reduce complexity and enhance benefits and services to those who need them, while ensuring that eligibility is not tied to a veteran’s status or location of residence.

Instead of programs crammed together and layered one atop the other, I recommended a single, simple “Continuum of Care” Program that adapts to the changing needs of veterans and their families, as they require more support.

We know that there is inadequate support for veterans today between at-home and LTC. But, while VIP helps veterans remain independent and self-sufficient in their home, there is inadequate support for veterans as their needs change and remaining at home is no longer an option.

We know also that programs are too complex, and eligibility is often based on service type rather than needs. Legislation and regulations identify over 28 separate eligibility groups for LTC funding alone. This makes it difficult for veterans or their family members to understand and navigate the programs.

VAC also needs to develop a strategy for providing support to veterans within the context of the Canadian health care system.

Now is the time for action. CAF veterans deserve no less than their war service comrades. If you agree with me, let your voice be heard. Speak up and let decision makers know that it is time for change.

- Guy Parent is the Veterans Ombudsman for Canada

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