On Tuesday I attended a Regional Stakeholder Summit hosted by Veterans Affairs Canada. It was a well attended event, and I recognized a number of people who are working hard in BC in support of veterans issues. The Minister of Veterans Affairs, the Honourable Seamus O’Regan, and the Deputy Minister, Gen (ret’d) Walter Natynczyk, both attended.

I don’t know Gen Natynczyk well, although our paths crossed once or twice during my military career. I’ve always known him as a good officer, and a straight shooter. Mr. O’Regan I don’t know at all, except from this summit. I was pleased to see that they both attended. Apparently they’ve done about 30 of these summits across the country, and for them to dedicate their presence to these events is a pretty clear signal that they take them seriously.

The discussions during the day were broken down into four main areas: Pension for Life, Communications and Engagement, Transition, and Veteran Homelessness.

The Pension for Life presentation was kind of the keystone discussion point. It includes three new benefits that are intended to recognize and compensate for disability resulting from service related injury. Personally, I think this is long overdue. In my opinion, both VAC and the Legion took a reputational hit by supporting the New Veterans Charter. The Charter failed to live up to expectations by becoming bogged down in bureaucracy when it was supposed to be a living, “Evergreen” document, and the single lump sum payment left injured and disabled veterans believing they were being bought off and forgotten.

There is a lot of information about the Pension for Life on the VAC website, and it’s worth a read.

Communications and Engagement was a group discussion to help understand how various veteran support groups communicate, and how VAC can support and be supported by these groups in getting messages out to vets. From my perspective, I told them the best info for us would be the facts – if VAC can prepare fact sheets on the various programs available to vets, that would be most useful. The tricky part in my mind will be perception – VAC is going to have to overcome years of mistrust.

Colonel Kevin Cameron from the Canadian Armed Forces spoke to us about Transition, and how best to help military members make the move into civilian life. There was a general consensus that this needs to start much earlier than it does.

The last topic was around Veteran homelessness. I’m glad they started the discussion, but I got the sense that they were still trying to wrap their heads around the scope of the problem. They have some good statistical data, but the challenge will be what to do with it – how to reach out and identify vets on the street, confirm that they actually need and will accept help, and find a way to get them back on the path again.

All in all, a good discussion, and I added to my collection of business cards from some other veteran support organizations. I also made some good connections with some of the folks from Veterans Affairs, so if you have any comments or concerns on these or any other veterans issues, let me know. I may not be able to fix your problem, but I am better equipped to get the information to the right people than I was last week!

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