March 6, 2012 - Appearance before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA)

Opening Remarks given by John Larlee, Chair, Veterans Review and Appeal Board

Thank you Mr. Chair and good afternoon Honourable Committee Members.

I am pleased to be here today to talk to you about the Board's Main Estimates for 2012-2013 and how we are serving Canada's Veterans.

With me is Karen Rowell, Director of Corporate Operations, who has been with the Board since its creation in 1995.

The Board fulfills the Government's commitment to provide Veterans and members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP, with a generous and independent appeal process for disability benefits decisions made by Veterans Affairs Canada.

I can assure you that the Board is dedicated to serving Veterans and their families respectfully, efficiently and effectively.

The vast majority of our budget is spent on conducting hearings for Veterans in almost 30 locations across the country.

These hearings deal with the most complex and challenging cases, since the straightforward ones are approved by the Department.

The reality is that many Veterans are satisfied at the departmental level and never bring their decisions forward to the Board.

Let me turn, for a moment, to how our hearing process works.

The Board's hearings are non-adversarial, which means no one is arguing against the Veteran.

Veterans are represented at no cost by lawyers from the Bureau of Pensions Advocates or service officers from the Royal Canadian Legion.

The Review hearing is the first level of redress at the Board.

It is the Veteran's first and only opportunity to appear before decision-makers, with witnesses, and testify about his disability and its relationship to service.

He can also bring forward new information and present arguments in support of his case.

By the end of this fiscal year, about thirty-six hundred applicants will have had a Review hearing.

If the Veteran remains dissatisfied, he can request an Appeal hearing.

Through his representative, he can submit new information and make further arguments in support of his case.

By the end of this fiscal year, about one thousand Veterans will have had an Appeal hearing.

Thanks to the opportunity these hearings provide, many applicants are successful in obtaining a better outcome at the Board.

In 2010-2011, about half received increased benefits due to a Review decision, while a further one-third received increased benefits at Appeal.

Mr. Chair, the Board plays a vital role in ensuring Canada's Veterans receive the benefits they so rightly deserve.

And, we are committed to making on-going program improvements to better serve them.

Today, the Board processes Review applications about twenty per cent faster than five years ago.

Our progress is even more significant at Appeal, with a fifty per cent reduction in processing times.

We have a manageable workload and are getting decisions to Veterans sooner.

The Board's priority is to produce timely decisions that are fair and well-reasoned.

We do this by ensuring that Veterans have their cases heard by professional and independent adjudicators.

We have an excellent cadre of Members who bring a diversity of professional experiences to their work.

Board members qualify through a selection process that is based on merit and recognizes the value of military, medical, policing and legal experience.

In fact, our two most recently appointed Members are CF and RCMP Veterans.

All new Members undergo a rigorous twelve-week training program before hearing cases.

They also receive ongoing professional development and support from knowledgeable staff.

As Chairman, I have established performance assessments for Members to give them regular feedback and opportunities to enhance their skills.

I am committed to finding more ways to strengthen our program in the next fiscal year.

We will remain dedicated to managing our costs effectively and to providing a fair and effective appeal program for Veterans and their families.

We are conducting a process redesign to find ways to cut red tape and make the appeal process faster and easier.

We are continuing to make the protection of Veterans' personal information a priority and will look for opportunities to further strengthen our privacy practices.

We are focussing on plain language in our decisions and communications.

We are improving our Web site and will publish noteworthy decisions to increase transparency and to help Veterans who may come before us in the future.

We will continue to educate our Members and staff about military and RCMP culture and the challenges faced by disabled Veterans and their families.

And, we will continue to expand our outreach to build stronger relationships with stakeholders and to act on their feedback.

I thank you for allowing me to talk to you today about the Board's commitment to serving Canada's Veterans.