Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, everyone.
Thank you to the committee members for the invitation to appear before the committee today to discuss supplementary estimates (B) for my department, Veterans Affairs Canada.
I appreciate and welcome these appearances concerning supplementary estimates, as they allow us to make sure Canada’s veterans are being served and supported as efficiently as possible.
As you know, more than 90% of the Veterans Affairs Canada, or VAC, budget represents payments to veterans, for supports and services that were hard-earned by those who served in the Canadian Armed Forces, or CAF, and the family members who sustained them at home.
Our government cares deeply about Canada’s veterans and their families, Mr. Chair, and continues to make investments that aim to maximize their overall well-being in post-service life.
Just last month, I announced that we made an investment of $164.4 million so that we can continue to improve the services that veterans and their families count on by retaining more than 600 Veterans Affairs employees for an additional two-year period.
To date, federal investments have supported the hiring of additional case managers and support staff to lower the caseload of frontline service delivery employees and to reduce the volume of disability applications currently in the queue.
This investment builds on the $156.7 million investment outlined in budget 2023, bringing the funding up to a total of $321.1 million over five years, plus $14.4 million ongoing to support services to veterans and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or RCMP.
It is no secret, Mr. Chair, that the timely and efficient delivery of these services is the top priority for our veterans and an ongoing challenge that we are continually working to address. It’s why the estimates include $15 million to modernize information technology, or IT, infrastructure, digitalize paper files, and implement digital technologies to support faster processing times—all of which will make the delivery of services more efficient for our veterans.
The estimates also plan for a $6.9-million increase in the budget for the Veterans Review and Appeal Board to continue its efforts to address their backlog.
Our estimates also include $5 million for VAC’s campaign on mental health and remembrance. For the mental health campaign, funding will be used to promote and create awareness among the veteran community of services and supports available to them immediately. Through the remembrance campaign, we will honour the Canadians who served our country during times of war, military conflict and peace. The campaign will also play a pivotal role in engaging Canadians in acts of remembrance and recognition of past and present sacrifices.
As growing numbers of veterans continue to approach the department for support and services, we are seeing a significant increase in demand for the income replacement benefit and the rehabilitation services and vocational assistance program. The $3.6 million in the estimates will be used to help meet these needs among the veteran community.
Demand for legal counsel from the bureau of pension advocates has also risen in the past few years. This has led to a backlog and longer wait times for veterans to receive the support they need.
Overall, the investments in these estimates reflect the priorities identified by veterans themselves and will ensure that we are able to meet their needs. Specifically, the supplementary estimates (B) add a total of $42.2 million to the Veterans Affairs Canada budget. I can assure you that this additional funding represents an important and necessary investment in the health and well-being of our veterans and their families.
Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before the committee today.
My department officials and I look forward to answering your questions.