2012 Progress Update on Action Plan Response to Veterans Ombudsman Report

Responses to the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

The Board has made more progress in the five key areas of its Action Plan:

Setting meaningful targets for quality performance

  • The Board identified Federal Court decisions as a meaningful performance indicator and driver of quality decision-making in its 2012-13 Report on Plans and Priorities (November 2012).
  • We will report against this target in the 2012-13 Departmental Performance Report (Fall 2013).
  • The Board continues to strive to avoid reviewable errors while dealing fairly with its complex caseload in a timely manner.
  • The Board also introduced new performance indicators in the 2012-13 Report on Plans and Priorities to ensure fair hearings and quality decisions for Veterans.
  • The Board is developing criteria to assess these aspects of its work and will pilot them in the last quarter of 2012-13 and implement in 2013-14.

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Providing applicants with clear decisions in plain language

  • The Chair established a team of members and staff that reviewed the format and language of Board decisions to ensure that all decisions have clear, concise and well-organized reasons.
  • The team developed and piloted a decision writing checklist that: (1) describes the components of a quality decision; (2) encourages clear, concise writing that includes only what is relevant; and (3) supports the use of bullets and endnotes to organize information where logical.
  • The Board also carried out a plain language review of decisions and collaborated with the Royal Canadian Legion in September 2012 to hold feedback sessions with Veterans about the decision improvements.
  • Participants confirmed that the new decisions, which included a plain language explanation of the benefit of the doubt clause (i.e. section 39 of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act), were clearer and easier to understand.
  • The Board is working with the Legion to reassemble the participants in 2013, to validate and further refine the decision improvements.
  • The Chair continues to emphasize that every decision must include a clear explanation of how section 39 has been applied to the facts and evidence of the case.
  • The Board has now implemented plain language decision writing, using the new checklist as well as other knowledge and tools from plain language training carried out prior to the Ombudsman's report.
  • Implementation of plain language decision writing will be supported by the new performance indicators and measurements for quality decisions.
  • The team continues to review decision types (e.g. reconsiderations) for clarity and to develop plain language explanations of common legal concepts.
  • The Communications Unit is supporting clear and plain writing through an ongoing review of all Web site content, correspondence and corporate materials.

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Improving transparency in decision-making

  • In May 2012, the Board began publishing Noteworthy Decisions on its Web site to improve transparency; there are now more than 70 decisions posted.
  • These are full-text, depersonalized decisions that demonstrate how the Board has applied the law in individual cases.
  • More Noteworthy Decisions are in various stages of the publishing process (i.e. depersonalization, translation, quality review of translation, mark-up for Web posting, etc.).
  • To be considered “noteworthy”, a decision must (1) be of general public interest because it presents a novel medical/legal issue or represents a common medical condition heard by the Board (i.e. an interest decision); or (2) provide interpretive guidance and persuasive commentary on issues of law, policy, or procedure (i.e. a leading and persuasive decision).
  • The Board has published its Adjudicative Guidelines, which promote consistency in decision making, and reorganized its Web site to make it more user-friendly.
  • The Board is working on publishing its annotated legislation (Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act, the Pension Act, and the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act) to help applicants better understand the Board's decision-making process. The goal is to ensure these are user-friendly and well-organized for Web users.

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Improving service delivery and decision-making

  • The Board established a Task Force with Veterans Affairs Canada and has convened two meetings to date.
  • At its most recent meeting, the Task Force began a discussion about the Federal Court's guidance on the benefit of the doubt provisions.
  • The Board will continue to lead these meetings to identify opportunities for improving service delivery and decision making at both organizations.

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Giving priority treatment to cases returned by the Federal Court for a new hearing

  • Since June 2012, the Board has been piloting a new process that takes a proactive approach to scheduling these cases.
  • In the new process, the Board's goal is to schedule a hearing for the applicant within 90 days of the Federal Court decision (rather than waiting to receive a request for a hearing date from the representative).
  • A new Case Coordinator was also assigned to work closely with applicants, representatives, and VRAB members and staff to ensure these files are given priority treatment through all steps in the process until a new decision is issued.
  • To date, five cases have been processed through this pilot project.
  • Due to the small sample size and relative newness of the process, it is too early to tell whether this pilot has resulted in improved processing time frames.
  • The Board has also identified challenges around scheduling (e.g. availability of private representatives and convening a new or the same panel of Board members) and decision-making (e.g. time required by the advocate or the Board to obtain additional information) that are unique to these complex cases.
  • The Board believes that all cases returned to us for a new hearing will benefit from the close monitoring implemented through this pilot – even those with delays pre- and post-hearing that are beyond the Board's control.

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