June 11, 2012 - The Royal Canadian Legion 44th Dominion Convention

Welcoming Remarks given by John Larlee, Chair, Veterans Review and Appeal Board

Grand President Murray, Dominion President Moore and Immediate Past President Varga, Members of the Dominion Executive, Legionnaires, Honoured Veterans, Ladies and gentlemen,

As Chairman of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, I am honoured to serve you and to be part of your 44th Dominion Convention.

This is my second Convention and I continue to be impressed by your “pride and precision,” to borrow words from Ms. Varga.

In my time with you today, I want to talk about the Legion's long history of advocating for Veterans and the Board's commitment to serving you.

It might surprise you to know that over the years, your service officers have appeared hundreds of times before the Board and its predecessors to argue on behalf of Veterans of all ages for disability pensions and awards.

Our Board members have found your service officers to be committed, compassionate and thorough in their presentations.

You should be very proud of the important and unique role they play in the disability adjudication system.

The Legion is the only Veterans' organization that has developed this level of expertise and involvement in the appeal process.

We have enjoyed a productive relationship built on frank feedback, mutual respect and continuous improvement.

Today, those who come before the Board are primarily still-serving or former members of the Canadian Forces and a small number from the RCMP.

They communicate through social media and have greater expectations for receiving information and services.

The Board is being challenged to keep up – or in some cases, catch up – with their needs.

Your Convention theme of “Building Bridges into the Future” is very relevant to us.

Now more than ever, we are committed to providing Veterans with a fair and timely hearing process and changing how we do business to better serve Veterans.

This means getting Veterans' cases heard at the earliest opportunity, issuing clear decisions and treating every Veteran with respect and dignity.

At the Board, Veterans have their first and only opportunity to appear in person before the decision makers and tell their story.

Until this point, it has been purely a paper process.

Our hearings are conducted in locations across Canada so that Veterans can give oral testimony, bring witnesses and new information, and be represented by experts from the Legion or the Bureau of Pensions Advocates.

We are also getting decisions to Veterans sooner.

Thanks to technology and other improvements, we are processing review applications about 20 per cent faster today than five years ago.

At appeal, we have cut the processing time in half.

Of course, Veterans expect – and deserve – quality decision making.

And that takes a qualified and dedicated group of Board Members like ours, who represent Canadian society and recognize the debt owed to those who have served.

As you pointed out in your resolutions, we also see the value of having more Board Members with military and policing experience.

We are very pleased that our two newest Members are a CF and an RCMP Veteran.

As you know, Veterans come to the Board because they are dissatisfied and are looking for a better outcome.

Many Veterans are successful at the Board. In fact, about 50 per cent receive new or increased disability benefits at review and a further 30 per cent succeed on appeal.

When we are unable to rule favourably, we are committed to explaining why.

I'd like to say that we always get it right but we know there's room for improvement.

The Ombudsman has made several useful recommendations that we have embraced.

In May, I launched a review of our decision format to ensure that Veterans receive clear reasons in plain language.

We are now publishing noteworthy decisions on our Web site to improve transparency. We are also working on modernizing our operations to improve Veterans' experience with the appeal process.

In short, we are listening to you and we are acting on your feedback.

In closing, I would like to thank the Legion for its longstanding advocacy and support for an independent avenue of appeal for disability benefits.

With your help, we will continue to build a bridge to a strong and positive future Veterans.

Thank you.