From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own. Carl Schurz

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dear Mr. Prime Minister let me save you some time

Earlier today no doubt wishing to buy some time in the hope that the furor over the Funeral and Burial Program for Canada's veterans will die down, Harper announced a review of the program. Well let me save him some time and expense as this program was reviewed by Veterans Affairs in 2009 and guess what they recommended.

This evaluation re-affirmed the need for the Funeral and Burial Program. The program does not overlap with other programs, and the number of applications received indicates a steady number of people apply to the program. The program is aligned with government priorities. However, Modern Day Veterans may benefit from the program but are not currently eligible on the same basis as War Service Veterans. Some lack of awareness or misinformation exists concerning the Funeral and Burial Program. To remedy this issue, program awareness should be targeted to those who interact with Veterans' families on a regular basis, such as workers in long-term care facilities.
To assess the success of the program, it was necessary to analyze emerging concepts of what would constitute a dignified funeral. Trends in the funeral industry are changing, and certain funeral items that were once considered essential are no longer prevalent. The allowable amounts for the estate exemption and funeral items have not changed in the past thirteen years. The cost of living has increased 28% since that time. In addition, the maximum allowable funeral and burial amounts have not changed since 2001, when they were increased based on the cost of living. More flexibility is required in defining both the allowable funeral items and maximum amounts.
The assessment of effectiveness and efficiency of the program was hampered by the lack of consistent cost and workload data. The establishment of standardized performance information such as expected turnaround times, service standards, acceptable client satisfaction levels, processing targets, the per grant costs of program administration, processing times for applications, awareness levels of service providers, reasons for denied or withdrawn cases, percentage of cases which are not considered dignified, and average grant amount and trends would ensure accountability for both the LPF and program management.
In the area of economy of the program, the lack of clarity regarding roles and responsibilities for matter-of-right was a constraint. The LPF branches have varying processes in place for identifying matter-of-right cases and applications are sometimes screened based on incomplete data. In addition, applications that are pre-approved over the telephone can result in overpayment due to the lack of standard criteria to define eligibility. Notwithstanding these constraints, it is clear since salaries account for the majority of administrative costs that savings cannot occur without a change in the current branch structure of LPF offices. The cost-effectiveness analysis explored a call centre approach both within the LPF and within VAC. The results indicate a potential savings of approximately eight hundred thousand dollars in 2006, had this approach been adopted.
The eight recommendations raised in this report are listed below.
R1 It is recommended that the Director General, Canada Remembers Division, consider the impacts and merits of expanding eligibility to CF Veterans on the same basis as War Service Veterans.
R2 It is recommended that the Director General, Canada Remembers Division, take steps to ensure awareness of the program is enhanced.
R3 It is recommended that the Director General, Canada Remembers Division, obtain Treasury Board approval to amend the Veterans Burial Regulations to include the following:
  • more flexibility in the compensation for certain items considered appropriate for a dignified burial;
  • appropriate consideration of the cost of funerals and the cost of living in relation to the grant amount and estate exemption amounts. This could include the provision of a Cost of Living Allowance clause.
R4 It is recommended that the Director General, Canada Remembers Division, ensure that effective performance targets are put in place to measure results. This will allow for systemic monitoring and reporting in order to ensure targeted outcomes are achieved.
R5 It is recommended that the Director General, Canada Remembers Division, in consultation with the Director General, National Operations Division, develop clear roles, responsibilities, policy and procedures for the identification, screening, adjudication, and processing of matter-of-right cases. Consideration should be given to a more centralized approach within VAC.
R6 It is recommended that the Director General, Canada Remembers Division, update the Veterans Program Policy Manual, Volume 5: Funeral and Burial Assistance, to include a clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of VAC and the LPF, an accountability framework, expected results, and the requirement for the LPF to provide performance reports with explanations for variances.
R7 It is recommended that the Director General, Canada Remembers Division, develop criteria to ensure clarity and consistency of approval of Type I services.
R8 It is recommended that the Director General, Canada Remembers Division, encourage the LPF to review the branch structure of LPF with a view to providing greater efficiency and reduction in administrative costs. A call centre approach should be considered to provide more consistent service across the country and to ensure costs on a per case basis are controlled and stable.

So there you go Mr Harper Review done and recommendations submitted all that is left is the implementation. Over to you