Letter to locals: contracting out rehabilitation services

To: UVAE Locals

For many years, services to Canada’s veterans and their families have been eroded and reduced. This has happened through underfunding and inaction by governments of various political stripes. Now growing privatization and contracting out have steadily diminished these services and the work of PSAC/UVAE members has been transferred to the for-profit sector. The latest attempt by Veterans Affairs Canada is to contract out rehabilitation services provided to veterans as they re-enter work and society from the military. A massive $560 million contract over an initial 5.5 years was awarded to Partners in Canadian Veterans Rehabilitation Services in June 2021. There is also a provision for three, two-year extensions. This contract will come into force in January 2023.

This contract will cost Veterans in reduced services, Case Managers in reduced responsibilities and potential downgrading and the Canadian public because they could do much of this work in-house at a much lower cost. That is why UVAE has joined forces with PSAC to fight back. For the last few weeks we have been very successful to date in getting attention to our campaign, both from free and paid media. That has included an article, an op-ed and a full-page article in the Hill Times. An article and full- page ad in the Charlottetown Guardian. An op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen and interviews with CBC PEI and Radio Canada Acadie.

Our full advertising campaign has seen transit ads in Ottawa and Victoria, an ad in Legion Magazine and an extensive outreach on Social Media. We have also purchased a digital billboard in downtown Halifax and PSAC Atlantic has arranged for an ad in the Nova Scotia Legion publication. To date over 400 letters have been sent to the Minister and we continue to work on promoting this among UVAE/PSAC members and activists. We have also started a campaign newsletter. The first issue came out July 4 and we will publish every two weeks moving forward.

In the next phase of the campaign we are asking members and activists to join us to grow support within the Case Manager community and throughout the UVAE and PSAC membership as we head into bargaining with the focus on Contracting Out. We will be working with PSAC in select areas of the country to get more pressure on the Minister and Department. Within UVAE and the broader labour movement we are organizing at the workplace and within communities including Pride events, Labour Day and a UVAE Local Presidents Conference in October.

You can follow this campaign on our website or on the UVAE Facebook page at

Sign the letter to the Minister

In Solidarity,

Virginia Vaillancourt
National President, UVAE

Veteran’s Affairs Canada internal survey: employees are worried about the impact on veterans and staff

Internal documents obtained by the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees under an access to information request show that employees are worried about the new $560 million dollar Rehab Contract and the impact on the Veterans they serve.

“While the Minister is silent and the Department is claiming that everything is great, employees are sounding the alarm,” said Virginia Vaillancourt, National President of the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees.

The Union obtained confidential surveys carried out by the Department that showed employees, mostly Case Managers are becoming more skeptical the more they find out about the new Rehab contract. They are particularly worried that the new contractor won’t be able to deliver services to Veterans as promised and that they will suffer more as a result. They are also worried about staff burnout and have little confidence that this new contract will make their jobs easier as promised.

“This internal survey confirms what Case Managers have told the Union,” says Vaillancourt. “Case Managers, who care deeply about the Veterans they serve see this new contact as a lose-lose-lose proposition. It’s bad for Veterans. It’s bad for Case Managers. It’s bad for Canadians.”
The Union is calling on Veterans’ Affairs Canada to delay implementation of this contract until the concerns of the staff have been addressed. If Veterans Affairs Canada cannot prove that this new contract will not do any harm or cause further delays to any Veteran, it should be cancelled. They are also requesting a meeting with the Minister of Veterans Affairs to discuss concerns about this contract and staffing shortages at the Department.
“It’s time for the Minister to step forward on this issue,” said Vaillancourt. “Veterans deserve better than this and our members want to deliver those services.”
For more information and to arrange media interviews please contact:

English
Mike Martin
Communications
Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees
mike54martin@yahoo.ca

French
Toufic El-Daher
Vice-président exécutif national / National Exécutive Vice-President
Syndicat des employé-e-s des Anciens Combattants (SEAC)
Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees (UVAE)
toufic.el-daher@hotmail.com

Quotes from Survey

“PCVRS (contractor) will lack a Veteran centric approach and will be too rigid for are most complex Veterans.”

“Concerned that it will create 2-tiered service for our clients – some will be with the new contractor, others will continue with present provider, different expectations, not the same accountability for both staff and clients. Could be difficult for CMs to explain this to clients.”

“I am concerned we will never have a relatively stable and well-trained workforce.

“I am also worried that we will see an increase in burnout as CM’s attempt to transition their files.”

“I fear that the case managers will be tasked to deal with complaints from Veterans and required to follow up when the RSS isn’t able to deal with a particular issue or concern. They will be stuck in the middle between the Veteran and the RSS.”

“The migration plan will have Case Managers potentially frustrated of having possibly old rehab plans for complex rehab plans to be migrated later and the new rehab plan for migrated/new rehab plans.”

“Fear of not getting enough training before the new program is implemented.”

Open letter to Minister MacAulay

Dear Minister MacAulay,

I guess you must be having a busy summer. Maybe that’s why you got the Deputy Minister to respond to our letter to you of June 14. Just received July 14th. That’s simply not good enough. We expect that you as the political leader of this Department would respond personally and not pass it off to your staff. We remind you that you have been given the mandate from the Prime Minister to: “Continue to reduce wait times and ensure Veterans and their families receive decisions on applications in a timely manner, including by investing resources to hire case workers and adjudicators, enhance disability benefit processing and advance innovative digital solutions.”

We also remind you that Case Managers at Veterans Affairs Canada who are worried about their jobs, their futures and the Veterans they have the honour to serve, are hoping to hear from you as well. They deserve to hear directly from you.

They would like to hear when your Department is going to honour your mandate to lower case loads that now range from 30 to 50 Veterans each. They would also like you to address their concerns about the new contract for rehabilitation services for Veterans and their families.

Namely, as we pointed out on June 14 that this contract expands the contracting out of the work of existing employees and transfers those responsibilities to the private sector. And that this expanded contract puts an additional barrier between Veterans and their Case Managers and will create undue delays and hardships for our treasured Veterans.

We have received information from Case Managers across Canada that there will be major problems with implementing this contract and that the Department does not have adequate internal resources to meet the challenges that this contract will create. Even worse, they are worried that Veterans and their families will simply not be able to access the services they need to continue their successful transition to civilian life. Your Departmental officials may tell you that everything is all right, but I can assure you that is not the message we are hearing from Case Managers and other staff who are on the front lines of serving Veterans.

We have a crisis in waiting and need your immediate action and intervention. To that end we call on you to order Veterans’ Affairs Canada to delay implementation of this contract until the concerns of the staff have been addressed. If Veterans Affairs Canada cannot prove that this new contract will not do any harm or cause further delays to any Veteran, it should be cancelled.

We would still like a meeting with you to discuss our concerns about this contract and staffing shortages at the Department. At the very least we would like you to make a personal statement in public on the issues facing employees at Veterans’ Affairs Canada. That seems like the least you could do.

Sincerely

Virginia Vaillancourt National President
Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees

UVAE Response to VAC Public Statements

Veterans Affairs saysUVAE response:
“One national contract for all vital services “will cut the administrative burden on case managers, allowing them to spend more time with their veteran clients and less time on the paperwork.”They are removing the core of CM duties that gives them meaningful contact with their Veterans and maintaining the case loads at 30-40, even 50 cases. So, no less paperwork and a hollowed-out job as a Case Manager. They will become admin service providers to the contractor.
“The government’s new contract will improve the delivery of rehabilitation services for veterans and will mean fewer steps for veterans and the case managers that serve them, allowing for more time to focus on the rehabilitation itself.”What we see are major changes, a major learning curve, new technologies, different parties involved looking to achieve different goals that will lead to duplication of work and more challenges for Veterans to overcome.
“There will be no impact on jobs as a result of the contract.”There will be a direct impact on the job of every Case Manager and every VSA and other staff who support them. This is a definite downgrade in terms of responsibilities and once that it is reflected in the new classification structure, there will be pressure to red-circle existing jobs and lower the classification for new hires.
“The contract in question will also not impact the department’s plan to address disability benefit wait times, as “the two items are unrelated, and the government has used external service providers since 2006 to support veterans’ rehabilitation.”Yes, the government has used external service providers to support veterans’ rehabilitation but under the previous contract it was the Case Managers who was the driver of veterans needs\file. Now the Case Manager will be providing support to the contractor who’s first objective is being profitable and second how to meet mandate requirement. The Veteran is far from being the number 1 priority in this scenario.
“The procurement process began in June 2019, and included consultations with veterans, their families, and departmental employees, who had the opportunity to provide feedback and influence each step of the process.”The contract was tendered and awarded before the Union and the vast majority of Case Managers knew what was happening. Focus groups with select Case Managers were established after the fact to get input and the union appointees to working groups were ignored and not invited to many meetings. The department has never provided any answers about how this new system will work despite many, many questions by Case Managers. This is not consultation.
When asked whether the government plans to hire more full-time case managers within the federal government rather than on temporary contracts VAC says “we always ensure that we are hiring full-time and temporary case managers to maintain our capacity, and provide veterans with case management support.”We are still waiting for the promised relief to come. There are vacancies in Case Management positions in every region of the country. It is not getting better. It is getting worse.
“We have improved our staffing and onboarding processes to accelerate and facilitate the recruitment of case managers.”See answer above. If the end result is the same, then how can you say that your staffing and onboarding processes have improved?
In response to questions around wait times, a VAC spokesperson said “the government welcomes the AG’s report and its recommendations, is making progress in reducing wait times, and has reduced the backlog by more than 30 per cent since September 2021.”Did they read the Auditor General’s Report? The AG said that the problem wasn’t getting any better and that they had no staffing plan to deal with the backlog. They can play games with statistics, but on the ground the system is backlogged and Veterans continue to wait for the services they need.
“We are committed to working with central agencies to explore options for long-term resources to help us make more timely decisions and permanently solve this issue.”They have no plan and nothing they have tried has worked. They are still trying to make a temporary fix to a long-term problem. The solution is to ask Case Managers and other staff for their suggestions and to have enough staff on duty to actually serve the existing needs of Veterans and their families.

Sincerely,

Virginia Vaillancourt
National President
613-560-5460