Implementation of Action Plan Response to Veterans Ombudsman's Report

Recommendation #1: That the Veterans Review and Appeal Board report to Parliament on its performance using the percentage of Federal Court decisions that uphold Board decisions as an indicator of fairness in the redress process, and on remedial measures to attain the 100 per cent target.

VRAB Action:
We are continuing to conduct hearings and make decisions in accordance with Federal Court guidance and directions on procedural issues and the evolution of the law.

Completed and ongoing:

Through actions already completed and underway, the Board is reinforcing its commitment to integrate Federal Court guidance and directions into our decision making and operations. In particular, we have:

  • established a task force with Veterans Affairs Canada to review trends in Federal Court decisions to improve service delivery and decision making (see Recommendation #2);
  • launched a review of our decision format to ensure applicants receive clear decisions in plain language (see Recommendation #3);
  • published Noteworthy Decisions on our Web site (see Recommendation #4); and
  • improved our procedures for cases returned by the Federal Court for a new hearing to ensure priority treatment (see Recommendation #6).

Together, these actions have strengthened the Board's procedures for reviewing and applying Federal Court rulings, increased transparency in how decisions are made, and will make decisions clearer and simpler to understand.

We will continue to integrate Federal Court guidance into the ongoing professional development of our Board members by analysing and discussing it with members at their monthly teleconference and in training seminars.

VRAB Action:
We have identified Federal Court decisions as a meaningful performance indicator and driver of quality decision making.

Completed and ongoing:

The Board will continue to use this performance indicator and will report to Parliament on it in the 2012-2013 Departmental Performance Report. The Board will strive to avoid reviewable errors while dealing fairly with its complex caseload in a timely manner.

Judicial reviews are a positive and constructive part of the adjudicative process. Most adjudicative bodies, including the Federal Courts, are subject to correction and guidance. This is one way that the interpretation of the law evolves and progresses over time.

VRAB Action:
We are using new performance indicators to ensure fair hearings and quality decisions, as previously committed to in 2012-2013 Report on Plans and Priorities.

Completed and ongoing:

The Board established these performance indicators in the 2012-2013 Report on Plans and Priorities. We are developing benchmarks for quality that are relevant to our mandate, achievable, and measurable. We will pilot this quality measurement initiative in 2012-2013 and implement and report on it to Parliament in 2013-2014.

VRAB Action:
We are continuing to report on performance publicly and to Parliament through the annual Departmental Performance Report.

Completed and ongoing:

The Board reports annually on performance publicly and to Parliament. The 2011-2012 Departmental Performance Report will be tabled in the fall of 2012.

Recommendation #2: That the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, Veterans Affairs Canada and the Bureau of Pensions Advocates establish a formal mechanism to review each Federal Court decision rendered in favour of the Veteran or another applicant, for the purpose of remedial action to procedures and adjudication practices.

VRAB Action:
We have established a task force with Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and the Bureau of Pensions Advocates (BPA) to review and discuss trends emerging from Federal Court decisions with the goal of improving service delivery and decision making.

Completed and ongoing:

The Board has established a task force with VAC and the BPA to review and discuss trends emerging from Federal Court decisions for the common goal of improving service delivery and decision making. The discussions will be based on shared issues rather than specific cases in order to respect and maintain our distinct and separate roles in the adjudicative process. The task force, led by senior officials, includes subject matter experts from the Board, VAC and the BPA.

Recommendation #3: That the Veterans Review and Appeal Board provide reasons for its decisions that clearly demonstrate that its obligation to liberally construe the legislation has been met, as well as its obligations under section 39 of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act to draw every reasonable inference in favour of applicants, to accept credible uncontradicted evidence and to give applicants the benefit of evidentiary presumptions (benefit of the doubt).

VRAB Action:
We have established a multi-disciplinary team at the Board to improve the format used to deliver decisions with a priority to provide well-organized and easily-understood reasons to applicants.
VRAB Action:
We have launched a plain language initiative for all communications from the Board.

Completed and ongoing:

The Chair of VRAB established a team and launched this review at the Board members' professional development seminar in May. It has been made a clear priority for decisions to be reorganized and more plainly written to address feedback received from the Ombudsman, stakeholders and the organizations that represent applicants at Board hearings. The team of Board members and staff will develop a new format and guiding principles for plain language decisions for implementation by the end of 2012.

The Chair also launched a plain language initiative at the Board to improve all communications with applicants and their families. This will complement the team's efforts to improve the format and language used in Board decisions.

VRAB Action:
We will implement these measures by the end of 2012.

Recommendation #4: That the Minister of Veterans Affairs ensure that the Veterans Review and Appeal Board is sufficiently resourced so that the Board may publish all of its decisions on its Web site and all Federal Court judgments pertaining to Board decisions.

VRAB Action:
On May 7, 2012, we began publishing Noteworthy Decisions on our Web site

Completed and ongoing:

As of June 5, 2012, the Board has published new Noteworthy Decisions on its Web site. Noteworthy decisions determine a question of law of general public interest or illustrate common conditions heard by the Board and so may be useful to applicants, stakeholders and the public. We will continue to publish Noteworthy Decisions on an on-going basis to build awareness of our decision making and improve transparency.

VRAB Action:
We have added a link to the Federal Court Web site from the Noteworthy Decisions page of the VRAB Web site.

Completed:

We have added a link to Federal Court decisions and new content to inform web visitors about the important role of judicial review in the Board's appeal process.

VRAB Action:
We have added new information about the Board's decision making on the VRAB Web site.

Completed and ongoing:

Along with new Noteworthy Decisions, we are posting annotated versions of the legislation used in the Board's decision making. The annotations are excerpts and summaries of Federal Court and Board decisions that highlight issues related to our hearings and decision making. Visit our Legal Resources page for more information.

Recommendation #6: For the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and the Bureau of Pensions Advocates to review their processes and service standards for the priority treatment of cases returned by the Federal Courts for rehearing.

VRAB Action:
We have improved procedures to ensure faster processing of cases returned by the Federal Court for a new hearing.
VRAB Action:
We have assigned a case coordinator to handle such cases with priority at all steps in the process.
VRAB Action:
We have streamlined the process for these cases with a goal of significantly reducing the average processing time.

Completed and ongoing:

We have reviewed and improved our procedures for cases returned to the Board for a new hearing. In particular, the Board has assigned a case coordinator to ensure that these cases are being treated as a priority at all steps in the process. This will be supported by more communications to staff about the priority status of these cases. We have also streamlined the process so that applicants receive a hearing date as soon as the Board receives the Federal Court's order to rehear. Our goal is to significantly reduce the average processing time from the Federal Court's ruling to the Board's new decision by March 2013.

VRAB Action:
We are collaborating with the organizations representing applicants to improve processes and communications for the delivery of priority treatment.

Ongoing:

The Board is implementing these new procedures in collaboration with the organizations that represent applicants at our hearings.

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