Ombudsman Raises Concerns Regarding the Treatment of Injured Recruits at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in St-Jean

June 25, 2008

General R.J. Hillier, C.M.M., M.S.C., C.D.
Chief of the Defence Staff
National Defence Headquarters
MGen George R. Pearkes Building
13th Floor, South Tower
101 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, ONK1A 0K2
 

SUBJECT: Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School – Unfairness Related to the Release of Injured Recruits

Dear General Hillier:

I am writing to inform you of our concerns regarding unfair treatment received by a number of injured military recruits and Officer Cadets resulting from a new procedure instituted last year at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in St-Jean, Quebec.

In May 2007, the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School introduced new criteria for the assessment of recruits and Officer Cadets for release from the Canadian Forces. These criteria (attached) require that any recruit or Officer Cadet who becomes unfit to participate in their basic training course for more than 30 cumulative days (without being assigned a temporary or permanent medical category) be referred to an Administrative Progress Review Board, and recommended for release from the Canadian Forces. The criteria also provide that, when a temporary medical category is assigned to a recruit or Officer Cadet, a Formal Progress Review Board be convened to evaluate the recruit's or Officer Cadet’s potential for retention in the Canadian Forces. 

Although there were separate instructions for recruits (non-commissioned members) and Officer Cadets, the wording, apart from reference to rank, was the same. Therefore, all subsequent reference to recruits within this letter shall also apply to Officer Cadets.

It is important to note that the new release criteria exclude a number of mechanisms and/or processes that are currently in place to ensure that trained members of the Canadian Forces are treated fairly when they are assigned medical employment limitations, or possibly released from the military.

Immediately after the implementation of the May 2007 release criteria, we received approximately 20 complaints from recruits who had been released, or who were advised of an impending release from the Canadian Forces, under release item 5(d) (i.e.,  “Not Advantageously Employable” ) of the Queen’s Regulations and Orders, Chapter 15. The recruits complained that they were being treated unfairly by the application of the new criteria. Their complaints specified that:

  • Their release item was incorrect – given that they were unable to complete their training due to an injury, they believed that they should have been given a medical release under item 3;
  • They were not given a fair amount of time to recuperate so that they could continue their basic training course;
  • They were left without any medical benefits, with no assistance in transitioning to provincial medical care, and with no source of income as a result of not being released medically;
  • There was a stigma attached to being released under item 5(d), a category that is meant to apply to a Canadian Forces member who is released  “because of an inherent lack of ability or aptitude to meet military classification or trade standards; or who is unable to adapt to military life; or who, either wholly or chiefly because of the conditions of military life or other factors beyond his control, develops personal weaknesses or has domestic or other personal problems that seriously impair his usefulness to or impose an excessive administrative burden on the Canadian Forces;”  
  • They would have difficulty re-enrolling in the Canadian Forces should their injury improve because they were being released under item 5(d).

As a result of these complaints, we sent two investigators to Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in July 2007, where they met with the Commandant and several members of the leadership cadre. During these meetings, our investigators were informed of a number of challenges currently facing the school, including:

  • Insufficient accommodations for housing and training an increased number of recruits while, at the same time, continuing to accommodate recruits who were no longer undergoing training (i.e., personnel awaiting training, personnel awaiting release and personnel undergoing Recruit Fitness Training);
  • Staff shortages; and
  • The introduction of the Recruit Fitness Training Program in October 2006 to address the removal of the CF EXPRES Test from the recruiting process.

The Commandant explained to our investigators that he needed to introduce the May 2007 release criteria because he could not find any other way of meeting the challenges facing the school with existing policies and/or tools. Current policies restricted his release authority to two items: 5(d) and 4(c) (i.e.,  “Voluntary On Request” ). The Commandant explained that his institution was  “…not operating in ideal conditions at the moment…” and that “this reality is also coupled with policies in place that are not probably fully adequate for what we’re expected to do...”. 

The Commandant and his staff explained that, prior to the introduction of the May 2007 release criteria, injured recruits either remained at Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in St-Jean or were attach posted to other bases until they recovered, requested their voluntary release, or were released medically through the medical release process applicable to all Canadian Forces members. According to the Commandant, he requested the authority for medical releases, but this was not granted.

After returning from St-Jean, our investigators reviewed the May 2007 release criteria along with other related policies and procedures, including the Queen’s Regulations and Orders, Chapter 15 (Release) and Director Military Careers Administration and Resource Management’s Administrative Review Medical Employment Limitations procedures. In addition, they discussed the new release criteria for injured recruits with representatives from various Chief of Military Personnel organizations.

Following our investigation, we have found that the May 2007 release criteria created a significant inequity in the treatment of injured recruits, particularly in comparison to their trained counterparts. Specifically, we found that the new criteria:

  • Unfairly limit the time that medical practitioners have to assess injured recruits;
  • Do not include the procedural protections embedded within the medical employment limitations administrative review process (available to trained Canadian Forces members);
  • Do not necessarily result in the most appropriate release category; and
  • Result in the potential loss of benefits and services to injured recruits, which were designed to help them transition to the civilian workforce.

Assessment of Injuries: Releasing injured recruits who are unable to participate in training for more than 30 cumulative days severely restricts the amount of time that medical practitioners at St-Jean have to properly assess the severity of an injury. This has a significant, and often negative, impact on their ability to determine an accurate long-term prognosis. It is also a restriction that is not applied to Canadian Forces members who have completed their basic training. For these individuals, a determination that there are permanent medical employment limitations is often preceded by two periods, of up to 12 months each, where a member is assigned a Temporary Medical Category. These periods of employment limitations provide medical staff with the time needed to make an accurate and thorough diagnosis and to treat injuries. These extended periods also provide injured or ill members time to recover prior to the assignment of permanent medical restrictions that could result in a medical release from the Canadian Forces.

Procedural Protection: When the condition of a trained Canadian Forces member is such that he or she is assigned medical employment limitations, or possibly released from the military, there are a number of mechanisms and processes in place to ensure the member is treated fairly. For example, pursuant to the Canadian Forces Medical Standards (ADM [HR-Mil] Instruction 11/04), the member’s Base Surgeon recommends a permanent change to his or her medical status, which then must be approved by the Director Medical Policy in Ottawa. When this occurs, the Director Military Careers Administration and Resource Management initiates an Administrative Review Medical Employment Limitations process. This process includes disclosure to the member and provides that member with an opportunity to make representation before a final decision is made.

By contrast, under the May 2007 release criteria at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School, an Administrative Progress Review Board is conducted for injured recruits who have not been assigned either a Temporary or Permanent medical category. This is generally limited to a file review during which, according to the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School Standard Operating Procedure 401.23 - Progress Review Board (PRB), it  “is recommended that the Platoon [Commander] and/or Division Commander conduct an interview with the Candidate.1 Complainants to our office stated that they were only given 24 hours to appeal a decision after they were informed that an Administrative Progress Review Board had decided that they should be released from the Canadian Forces. Complainants also stated that appeals had to be made to the Commandant in the form of a request to have the Progress Review Board decision reviewed. However, since the release is based on the recruit’s personal suitability for military service, appeals focused on the recruit’s underlying medical condition(s) might not be considered relevant.

If a recruit has been assigned a Temporary or Permanent medical category, a Formal Progress Review Board is convened and the recruit is provided with an Assisting Officer, a copy of his or her training file the day before the board sits, and the ability to make representations before a final decision is made. In this regard, we found the Formal Progress Review Board to be marginally better than the Administrative Progress Review Board.
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1. CFLRS SOP 401.23 

However, neither of these processes include a requirement for formal input from a physician with respect to a recruit’s ability to recover and resume training or the likelihood that the injury will prevent the recruit from completing their basic training in a reasonable time. Nor do they require that the decision-makers consider the recruit’s medical condition. The fact that the only possible release item is 5(d) means that the focus shifts to the recruit’s personal – not medical – suitability for military service, even if the review itself was triggered by an injury or medical condition. In short, neither of these processes provide an injured recruit with transparency or second-level review and/or oversight that is provided by the Administrative Review Medical Employment Limitations process.

Inappropriate Release Category: Recruits released under item 5(d) for injuries from which they fully recover often find that they are penalized if they try to re-enroll in the Canadian Forces. Normally, the Commanding Officer of a Recruiting Centre has the authority to approve the enrolment of applicants to the Canadian Forces. However, when the applicant is a former member who was released under item 5(d), the Canadian Forces Recruiting Group in Borden must approve their re-enrollment. This process is often more difficult and time-consuming for applicants.

At the same time, recruits released under item 5(d) for injuries from which they cannot fully recover, and which would qualify them for Veteran’s Affairs Benefits, also face difficulties as a result of their release item. Specifically, and unlike members released for medical injuries, they are not assigned a case manager and they are not transitioned out of the Canadian Forces through the ‘Centre’ – a joint initiative of the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada that is administered by Director Casualty Support and Administration. This often results in the unfair loss of important benefits and services.

Loss of Benefits and Services: The most tangible and negative impact experienced by injured recruits released under item 5(d) is the loss of access to benefits and services. The assignment of a permanent medical category, and any subsequent decision to release a Canadian Forces member medically, is the trigger that opens the door to benefits and services designed to allow for the seamless transition to provincial medical care, including access to a Canadian Forces Health Service Case Manager, and physician-to-physician referrals, which are key in arranging post-release care. It also allows for transition benefits, services and assistance from the ‘Centre,’ including access to the Transition Assistance Program and Vocational Rehabilitation Training.

Given our concerns regarding the unfair treatment received by approximately 20 injured recruits at St-Jean, we were pleased to learn that, on February 26, 2008, the Commandant had issued a verbal instruction canceling, until further notice, the direction to release recruits who could not participate in basic training for more than 30 cumulative days.

However, in order to resolve the significant problems outlined above, I believe it is essential for the cancellation of the May 2007 release criteria to be made formal and permanent. Accordingly, I recommend that:

The Canadian Forces immediately review the release criteria used by the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School to deal with personnel injured on basic training in order to ensure that these personnel are: (1) treated fairly with regard to the assessment of injuries; (2) provided with procedural protection; and (3) released, if required, under the appropriate release item and given access to appropriate benefits and services to allow them to transition back to the civilian workforce.

I also believe that the Canadian Forces must address all individual cases of unfairness resulting from the May 2007 release criteria. Specifically, I recommend that:

The Canadian Forces review, by October 31, 2008, all administrative releases from the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School which were the result of the application of the May 2007 release criteria, and take all action necessary to ensure that injured personnel receive the appropriate release item, as well as all of the benefits and services to which they are entitled.

Should you have any questions regarding our findings or recommendations, I would be pleased to discuss them with you at your convenience.

Sincerely yours,
 

Mary McFadyenInterim Ombudsman

Enclosure: 1

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RECRUITS

NEW RELEASE CRITERIA FROM F DIV

English:

Rules:

a. Anyone who gets unfit for BMQ/IAP/BOTP training for more than 30 cumulative days without TCat (temporary category) or PCat (Permanent Category) assignment, will be sent to an Admin PRB with a recommendation to be released from the CF due to his unsatisfactory progress to successfully carry out all tasks assigned; and

b. when a TCat (temporary category) is assigned to a candidate, a formal PRB will be convened to evaluate the candidate’s potential for retention in the CF. 

Progress Review Board:

Part I:

Pte(R) XXXX’s file is forwarded to an administrative/a formal PRB IAW the A-PD-050- BMQ/PH-H17 (Training Plan) Chapter 3, para 26e, which states “unsatisfactory progress of individual assessments assessed in paragraph 2d” which further states “successfully carry out all tasks assigned”.

Pte(R) XXXX’s progress is such that it is unreasonable to complete training in the CF at the moment. It is recommended that the Pte(R) XXX be released from the CF.

Part III:

I fully support the Pl Comd’s recommendation and therefore recommend that Pte(R) XXXXX be release from the CF under item 5d, due to his unsatisfactory progress and cannot be advantageously employed at the moment.

OCDTOCDT

NEW RELEASE CRITERIA FROM F DIV

English:

Rules:

a. Anyone who gets unfit for BMQ/IAP/BOTP training for more than 30 cumulative days without TCat (temporary category) or PCat (Permanent Category) assignment, will be sent to an Admin PRB with a recommendation to be released from the CF due to his unsatisfactory progress to successfully carry out all tasks assigned; and

b. when a TCat (temporary category) is assigned to a candidate, a formal PRB will be convened to evaluate the candidate’s potential for retention in the CF. 

Progress Review Board

Part I:

OCdt XXXX’s file is forwarded to an administrative/a formal PRB IAW the A-PD-050-IAP- BOTP/INTERIM (Training Plan) Chapter 3, para 29e, which states  “unsatisfactory progress of individual assessments assessed in paragraph 2d” which further states  “successfully carry out all assigned tasks”.

Part II:

I fully support the PI Comd’s recommendation and therefore recommend that OCdt XXXXX be release from the CF under item 5d, due to his unsatisfactory progress and cannot be advantageously employed at the moment.

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