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Look to Veterans Affairs for evidence of government’s failure to hire former soldiers, argues advocate

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Re: Look to Veterans Affairs for evidence of government’s failure to hire former soldiers, argues advocate

Post by Guest on Mon 19 Oct 2015, 16:59

Government has led by example by providing priority hiring to veterans, says Erin O’Toole

Defence Watch recently ran an op-ed by veterans advocate Sean Bruyea taking the Conservative government and Veterans Affairs to task for its hiring of veterans. Bruyea pointed out that in the last 10 years VAC has hired only 25 injured veterans and hiring of veterans across the federal public service is dismal.

Erin O’Toole, the Veterans Affairs Minister and Conservative candidate has submitted this response to Defence Watch. Mr. O’Toole noted that this is an adaptation of a speech he gave in the House of Commons last year, before he became Minister, and is based on his experience of Veteran hiring over many years:

By Erin O’Toole

Defence Watch Guest Writer

Recently there have been voices that suggest more Veterans, upon leaving the military due to injury or at the completion of service, should be given the opportunity to again serve our country as employees of our federal government.

I am proud our government has passed a law that ensures priority hiring of Veterans, as I advocated for this, and spoke about it in the House of Commons. Those actually involved in Veteran hiring would never expect this to be the route that thousands of Veterans would choose. In fact, in my June 2014 speech in the House of Commons I suggested that priority government hiring would likely assist “dozens” to several hundred Veterans over several years. The reality is that only a portion of Veterans will choose to pursue an opportunity within a department of government.

Veterans need employment opportunities and the development of a Hire a Veteran culture in Canada. As I have said several times, Veterans are not a monolithic group that has the same needs and desires. They want to be fulfilled, support their family and have options after their years in uniform. A job in government should not be the only option.

For many years I have talked about building a Hire a Veteran culture in Canada in order that both public and private sector employers understand and value military training and experience in their hiring programs. For me, this work began long before I became a Member of Parliament. It was the result of my own transition from the military to a career in law. Veterans helped me with advice and mentorship and I have been proud to work alongside many other Veterans and advocacy groups to help others and strive toward a wider understanding of the benefits of hiring Veterans.

Why is it important to build a Hire a Veteran culture in Canada? Altruistically, it is a positive move for the government or private sector to hire Veterans. These are men and women who have served our country with distinction, at times putting themselves into harm’s way, whether overseas in Afghanistan or on missions here in Canada. Therefore, it is a pay it forward approach for society to hire Veterans. However, it is more than just altruism; it makes very good business sense to hire a Veteran. It is actually accretive to the bottom line because businesses are getting men and women with demonstrated leadership skills and a track record of team work. Whether it is a Master Corporal or a Major-General, Canadian Veterans have received training that is unparalleled throughout NATO and the developed world, in terms of an educated military, one that is trained in leadership ethics, managing people, leading under stressful situations, and with a culture that is inherently loyal. The military regimental structure is based upon the principle of loyalty. This is important because so many companies have trouble with talent retention and the costs of constantly recruiting and training personnel.

In the last session of Parliament we passed laws to promote the hiring of injured Veterans and for the hiring of Veterans in the public sector. I said at the time, Canada needs to be a critical part of the recognition of value of hiring a Veteran. Each year, almost 5000 men and women leave the Canadian Armed Forces and about 1200 of these people releasing from the military are leaving due to an injury or medical issue. Veterans with an honourable release from the Canadian Armed Forces after at least three-years of service have a priority level of hiring within the civil service that extends to five years. That period is important because it inherently recognizes that when a Veteran transitions, they often need time to recover from an injury and receive additional training or education before their next opportunity.

The Government of Canada has led by example by providing priority hiring to Veterans. However, this is just one important option in the goal of building a Veteran-friendly hiring culture. This government has also reached out to the private sector and worked with employers to build inclusive hiring cultures. Our government created the Veterans Transition Advisory Council (VTAC) and the Helmets to Hardhats program to help build relationships with large employers, the skilled trades and construction industry in Canada and to ensure these companies and organizations understood the value of hiring transitioning Veterans.

This Government is a leader towards the Hire a Veteran culture. I am also proud of the steady and often overlooked work done by advocacy, fraternal and charitable organizations in Canada. Canada Company and their Military Employment Transition (MET) program have established opportunities for Veterans at dozens of employers across the country for several years. Wounded Warriors, True Patriot Love, Military Minds and other charitable groups have worked on employment and mentoring opportunities for veterans. Treble Victor, a fraternal group of Veterans working in the private sector, has quietly helped dozens of Veterans with placements, mentoring and starting placement programs at large employers. Veterans and supportive Canadians like journalist Kevin Newman even worked with Kijiji to create a category for “Veteran Friendly” employers so that opportunities could be easily searched and so that employers were encouraged to consider identifying themselves as open to hiring Veterans.

The success of a Hire a Veteran culture can be measured in many ways, but the best measure is ensuring there are a variety of options for veterans and that employers across the country understand why a veteran would make a good addition to their team. What I like the most about the non-governmental organizations involved in this effort is the fact that many Veterans have led these initiatives and that these groups have opened doors and helped Veterans help their comrades in a way that only they can. The government has a role in helping Veterans find opportunities, but all Canadians have a role in this important work too.


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Look to Veterans Affairs for evidence of government’s failure to hire former soldiers, argues advocate

Post by Guest on Sun 18 Oct 2015, 17:16

By Sean Bruyea

Defence Watch Guest Writer

For the first time in eight decades, issues affecting Canada’s military veterans issues are featured prominently in an election.

With so much at stake, why would government yet again mess up another issue with veterans: priority hiring into the federal public service? Minister and veteran Erin O’Toole in another installment of government hype on the treatment of veterans provided this statement during the July 2015 changes to priority hire veterans:

“The Government of Canada is keeping its commitment to help military Veterans thrive while making the transition to civilian life.”

Prior to these changes, only medically released members could have one chance to be priority hired. Serving members weren’t allowed to access internal competitions, representing 88% of public service job openings. Changes now allow Forces members to access internal competitions but with no priority placement. Non-medically released veterans can have priority, accessing only external jobs, representing the remaining 12% of competitions. After World War II, all overseas veterans received preference in all competitions, the injured having the highest preference, no time limits, multiple attempts.

Time will tell if priority hiring amendments are working but are the minister, his department and the rest of the civil service helping veterans “thrive”? In the first six months of 2015 which corresponded to Minister O’Toole’s inaugural tenure, the Public Service Commission reports he oversaw the priority hiring of zero medically released veterans. Since 2010, Veterans Affairs (VAC) has priority hired only six veterans, 2 of whom were hired by the Veterans’ Ombudsman.

O’Toole isn’t the only veteran in the upper ranks of Veterans Affairs. Former top general, Walter Natynczyk was appointed deputy minister in November 2014. These two individuals are the two most powerful individuals in VAC and arguably the most influential veterans inside government. They aren’t the only ones piling on endless platitudes but why the gaping chasm between media talking points and dawdling?

The current government has manifestly professed its commitment to veterans while demonstrating an iron grip on the public service. Yet, in the first six months of 2015, the entire 250,000 strong federal civil service could only priority hire 21 veterans.

In the past five years, 6162 CF members have received medical releases out of a total of 24,000 releases. Troublingly, the public service has engaged only 446 veterans, or less than 7.2 % of medical releases for those years, (veterans released other years would have also qualified further lowering the per cent).

Of the approximately 3,500 employees at VAC, only 97, or 2.7%, are veterans, eleven of whom work in the Ombudsman’s office. Most of these were not priority hires. A cornerstone commitment accompanying the controversial veterans’ benefits known as the new veterans charter was priority hiring. In the nine years since its enacting under the Conservative government, VAC has made just 25 veteran priority hires. Correctional services, Public Works, Employment and Social development as well as Fisheries and Oceans all priority hired more veterans than the department legally mandated to “care” for and “re-establish” veterans.

National Defence has better fulfilled an obligation to veterans with 838 veteran priority hires, 71% of the total. But the booby prize goes to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. With over 100 employees and a perennial insensitivity to veterans, this agency priority hired just one veteran in eleven years. This must be what the public service wants because the chief bureaucrat during this time, Dale Sharkey, was last month awarded the Public Service Award of Excellence. Her nominator: VRAB’s director of communication. Back patting and rhetoric over substance.

Does all this mean the public service discriminates against veterans? Some veterans employed in the public service have made this allegation. Perhaps the greatest barrier is public service culture. As the Auditor General and DND have noted, hiring an individual can take 10 months while their application meanders through bureaucratic obstacles. When Forces members are ordered overseas at 48 hours’ notice to potentially lose their lives, government’s dull-witted response when the uniform comes off is a distant cry from the caring and dignity this government keeps telling veterans they deserve.

One astute committee member noted during hearings on the changes to the priority hiring bill: “why aren’t we thinking outside of the box in which we tend to think right now?”

Enlightenment, compassion and innovation appear anathema to the senior public service. There are time limits for the priority hiring window. Yet, for disabled veterans, the only expiry date on their disability is death. For spouses, if a veteran is too ill to work, she is barred from priority hiring.

More than 70% of the priority placements are in clerical positions. For some, worthy jobs but Minister O’Toole tells us our veterans have a wide ranging skill set. In fact there is no unique veteran specific follow-up to ensure that veterans are not frustrated, bored, undervalued, under-performing or suffering discrimination in a public service culture which is widely divergent from that of the military.

When Canadians join the military, they are constantly trained, taught and transition into responsibility with some of the best mentoring management culture in the public or private sector. There is no gradual transition into a new public service job for the few accepted. All applicants must satisfy narrow criteria that either discourage or disqualify anyone outside the public service. Bureaucratic culture has a difficult time translating private sector skills to a public service context. No wonder almost all departments, except DND, have been unable to translate military skills sufficiently to substantively employ large numbers of veterans.

Neither are disabled veterans supported to take on partial work-weeks to adapt their limitations to new employment. Anecdotally, veterans are too frequently unable to make the transition from disability to 100% work schedule in an unfamiliar work environment.

But we really don’t know because we don’t care enough about our veterans to do any meaningful follow-up let alone provide urgently required coaching. And our veterans need a helping hand. Fully sixty-percent of recent releases have 20 years or less military service with 38% having five years or less. They want a job and their skills are a must-have for a stagnant public service.

For veterans who are sloughed off onto civilian not-for-profits, we have no idea how they are doing because there is no accountable follow-up. Washing hands of veterans by government to outside agencies has taken on a mean, hot potato streak in the last decade.

Let’s put this all in perspective. In the six years after World War II, Canada’s civil service hired over 130,000 veterans. By 1951, Veterans Affairs had 14,000 employees; almost 9500, including more than 95% of senior managers, were veterans. For all veterans in any employment, particularly the disabled, personalized follow-up was part of the package. Case managers met with veterans and employers on a regular basis to help ‘translate’ the military skill set and working limitations of veterans into civilian context.

“Walt” Natynczyk provided the following in a scripted news release: “Those who wear the uniform of the Canadian Armed Forces serve Canada with loyalty, pride, and a commitment to excellence.” Each military member does this for each and every Canadian at the orders of the government of Canada. Canadians have increasingly appreciated this reality of late.

Discouragingly, government is far too mired in political self-interest, advised by the parochial and initiative-paralyzed bureaucracy to tangibly return the commitment in kind to our veterans and their families. Are veterans ‘thriving’ Minister O’Toole? The best many veterans have been able to achieve, if they aren’t committing suicide, is to merely survive.

Sean Bruyea, vice-president of Canadians for Accountability, is a retired Air Force intelligence officer and a frequent commentator on government, military, and veterans’ issues.


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