About this Consultation
Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) is renewing the way it communicates and reaches out to Veterans, currently-serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and their families. It is important that former military members understand the range of well-being benefits and services that are available to them, and how to access support when they need it.
The findings of this consultation will help VAC explore new ways to reach former CAF members as they transition to post-military life. It will help us communicate more effectively with the Veteran community in the future. In the long term, this will lead to better physical and mental health outcomes for Veterans and their families.
The total estimated Canadian Veteran population is 649,300 as of March 2018, consisting of 48,300 War Service Veterans and 601,000 CAF Veterans.
VAC serves approximately 20% of the total Veteran population in Canada. Many former military members do not receive benefits and services from VAC. It is possible that some Veterans are not aware of the evolving suite of benefits and services available through VAC, including any newer benefits (such as the Education and Training Benefit) for which they may qualify.
VAC’s newer programs are designed to support former CAF members and their families as they transition to post-military life. It is important that all Veterans who might qualify for VAC benefits and services, or may in the future, have the opportunity to receive them. Moreover, VAC aims to stay in contact with all Veterans—whether they currently receive support or not—in case physical or mental health problems arise in the future.
With this public engagement, VAC will engage in a two-way dialogue with former military members and their families, and actively listen to the ideas and feedback they provide. VAC recognizes the need for a sincere, open and productive conversation about any barriers that may exist. Veterans and their families have a say in decisions that affect them.
The consultation process
The consultation began with a series of one-on-one discussions with 15 organizations that are familiar with Veterans’ issues. For the initial stage of the project, individuals representing non-government organizations and Veterans who are currently not served by VAC were interviewed. The interviews gathered information to help frame the next stage of the consultation.
Through the online consultation (this website), VAC is interested in hearing the insights of former CAF members and their families on their awareness of the supports available to them. How should VAC engage with and reach Veterans in the future?
Following the online consultation, a series of in-person discussion groups with Veterans will take place in communities across Canada.
Lastly, a final report of recommendations will be prepared and will be made publicly available. The anticipated release date is Summer 2020.
What we’ve heard so far
As a first step in the consultation, interviews were held in September and August 2018 with organizations that serve Veterans.
Questions related to the following topics:
- Where and how VAC can locate Veterans and their families who are not currently being served by the department;
- Possible barriers to participation in VAC programming;
- Possible outreach and communications initiatives that might encourage Veterans to participate both in the consultation, and in VAC programming.
Who is a Veteran?
In the interviews, there was no clear consensus on the use of the term "Veteran" or "ex-CAF" member.
There was a lack of agreement around the meaning of the word "Veteran" itself, and who considers themselves to be one; many younger individuals who have served in the CAF more recently, those who did not serve for very long, and those who were in the reserves, often do not see themselves as Veterans despite the fact that they are indeed Veterans. This can likely be attributed to the social perception people have of what a Veteran is (i.e. a "traditional" Veteran of the World Wars and the Korean War) rather than as defined by VAC, which considers “any former member of the Canadian Armed Forces who releases with an honourable discharge and who successfully underwent basic training” to be a Veteran.
The interviews suggested that that VAC needs to more clearly communicate the definition of a Veteran, and appeal in particular to those who may not traditionally see themselves as Veterans, in order to reach a broader audience.
Use of VAC programs and services
Many of the people interviewed in the first phase had a strong understanding of VAC’s services and programs, but did not actually use VAC’s services themselves.
Many participants expressed a negative view and experience with the process involved with acquiring the benefits and services, calling the process challenging, time-consuming, lengthy, and overall "unfair". While some of the people who were interviewed spoke from personal experience, most mentioned that they had heard repeated anecdotes from other Veterans.
There is also a sentiment that exists that Veterans do not want to “take advantage” of the services that VAC offers, since they do not “need” the help, whether financially or otherwise (even though they may be eligible for benefits now or at a later time in their lives).
Others said that because they didn’t consider themselves Veterans, they disregarded any services that VAC could provide.
Some interviewees, mostly those who had limited knowledge of the services VAC offers, did not believe VAC has anything valuable to offer them. There was a clear lack of clarity and understanding around what benefits and services VAC offers.
For some, hearing stories from peers about their issues with dealing with VAC or about denials gave them the sense that it would be too cumbersome or unfruitful to even try.
In some cases, not receiving support from VAC is not by choice. Some interviewees shared stories of denied applications and claims.
Visibility of VAC services
Interviewees also expressed a need for VAC to focus on advertising and promotion in order to encourage participation in its programs and services.
They said VAC should be significantly more visible "in the field" and focus on having a much more prominent presence.
Specifically, they suggested VAC should tailor communication to younger released CAF members and reservists so they understand they are Veterans who could benefit from programs and services.
Other suggestions included communicating policies so people are aware how the processes work with VAC, advertising the inclusivity of VAC—for example, to young people, women, LGBTQ+ Veterans, etc., and having Veterans with success stories act as ambassadors for VAC.
Veterans organizations as advocates for the consultation
Many interviewees expressed interest in improving VAC and were enthusiastic that there are steps being taken to improve communications and outreach with Veterans.
Virtually all participants expressed a willingness to take part in the online and/or in person engagement. Many of the interviewees were pleased at the opportunity to have their voice heard in the interest of helping VAC improve how it communicates its services, and overall impact on Canadian Veterans.
Moreover, they all agreed to be re-contacted for the online engagement and requested further information that they can share within their organizations, networks and peer groups.
Please get in touch with Veterans Affairs Canada if you have questions about this consultation.