Progress on ACVA's Recommendations - 2013
The Veterans Review and Appeal Board has made great progress in addressing the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs' (ACVA) Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs: Restoring Confidence in the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.
This report has been, and continues to be, an impetus for action at the Board. Over the past year, the Board has taken steps (detailed below) which will have a profound and positive impact on Veterans, Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and RCMP members, and their families.
The Board has done the following to reinforce and promote our independence as the arm's-length appeal tribunal for disability benefits decisions made by Veterans Affairs Canada:
- In May 2013, the Board communicated its revised Vision, Mission and Values statements to more clearly express its commitment to timely, respectful hearings and fair, plain-language decisions for Veterans. It also added the new value of “independence” and provided orientation and training on the importance of the Board's arm's-length status and decision-making independence to its five newest members and to all newly hired staff.
- In June 2013, the Board successfully promoted its merit-based Member Selection Process in the national CAF publication, The Maple Leaf, and through other stakeholder communications to encourage applications from interested Canadians with military, medical and policing backgrounds. The five newest Board members are CAF Veterans or health care professionals, giving the Board its highest ever proportion of members with these backgrounds.
- With respect to public servant positions, the Board continues to make employment opportunities open to military personnel and to assess all priority referrals against clearly defined job qualifications.
- To strengthen its privacy practices, the Board provided in-depth training to all staff and members in the spring of 2013 about the appropriate use and protection of Veterans' personal information. It also participated in a horizontal audit on the Protection of Personal Information conducted by the Office of the Comptroller General in 2013-14, and looks forward to the results and feedback.
- The Board's new Code of Conduct has been made a term and condition of employment. The Code places particular emphasis on the importance of impartiality, common values and expected behaviours, and ethical conduct. The Code of Professional Conduct for Board members is under review and, once finalized, will be published on our Web site.
- The Board is finalizing a “Practice Essentials” manual which will be used as a tool for the training and orientation of Board members. It will be published online before the end of the fiscal year.
The Board has also implemented the Committee's recommendations that deal with ensuring fairness in decision making:
- The Board reviewed its evidence requirements against those of other quasi-judicial tribunals and found them to be consistent with the industry standards. It also found that the Board has more requirements than other tribunals to justify its decisions and to draw favourable conclusions from the evidence.
- To respond to the Committee's recommendation to reach out to the Veteran community about evidence requirements, the Board will publish information that makes its requirements clear and accessible.
- The Board has also placed a focus on decision writing to ensure that decisions are clearly explained. In the past year, the Board provided Members with training on writing in plain-language, implemented a new decision writing checklist for Board members, a plain-language explanation of section 39 of the VRAB Act for decisions, and new criteria for quality. At informal feedback sessions coordinated by the Royal Canadian Legion in May 2013, military members and Veterans told the Board that its decisions are now clearer and easier to read.
The Board has also made good progress in increasing transparency and communications about the appeal program:
- The Board has developed a new poster and retractable banner to support increased outreach efforts and to promote its Web site.
- To guide improvements, the Board launched an exit survey in April 2013 to gather large-scale feedback from applicants about their Review hearing experience.
- The Board continues to translate, depersonalize and publish Noteworthy Decisions, and to explore other models for the selection of decisions for publication. It also began forwarding Noteworthy Decisions for publication on CanLII for access by a wider audience.
- The Board takes its obligations to Veterans under the Privacy Act very seriously, as its decisions contain a high degree of sensitive medical and personal information. For this reason, it has sought, and received, comments from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner on how best to implement the Committee's recommendation with respect to the publication of Board decisions involving the Federal Court. It is carefully reviewing the comments and will proceed cautiously in determining the best approach.
The Board also committed to increasing knowledge and understanding of military and policing cultures among its members and staff. In particular, it has established good working relationships with the Chief of Military Personnel, as well as the CAF and RCMP Liaisons for Veterans Affairs, to expand its cultural awareness and training activities as follows:
- Professional development seminars for Board members include a focus on military and RCMP service. In May 2013, Board members learned about the realities of RCMP culture and operations from former and still-serving personnel. In October 2013, the seminar took place at CFB Gagetown where Members had the opportunity to talk to serving personnel and to see first-hand the rigours of military life.
- The Board is also working with the CAF Liaison Office to offer a “CAF 102” presentation to all staff as a more in-depth complement to the mandatory “CAF 101 for Civilians” online course for all staff and members.
Finally, the Board has taken several steps aimed at improving service to Veterans and their families:
- The Board has reviewed and refined its internal tracking systems to bolster its data collection related to Veterans' applications and outcomes. This will provide information about the reasons Veterans come to the Board (e.g. whether for new or increased benefits) and the outcomes.
- In recognition of the importance of timely service, the Board established a new systems indicator in March 2013 to allow it to report against the 16-week service commitment (from the scheduling of a Board hearing to a decision).
- The Board continues to review its workload on a biweekly basis to support the processing of decisions within the service standard, which it achieved in 88 per cent of Veterans' cases last year.
- The Board established new performance indicators for fair proceedings and quality decisions while integrating the criteria into training and performance feedback for its members.
- Finally, the Board will publish its first annual report to Parliament in the Spring/Summer of 2014. The goal will be to raise awareness of the appeal program and to disseminate accurate information about its contribution to the disability benefits system for Veterans, CAF and RCMP members, and their families.