Ombudsman writes to Wing Commander concerning visit to 9 Wing Gander, NL

7 May 2015

Lieutenant-Colonel Kevin Toone
Wing Commander
9 Wing Gander
Gander, NL A1V 2V4
 

Dear Lieutenant-Colonel Toone,

I am writing to follow up on our visit to 9 Wing Gander from March 16-20, 2015. During this visit, my staff and I were pleased to meet with and listen to feedback from military personnel, civilian employees, caregivers and military family members. We left with valuable information about military work and life in Gander.

I would like to take this opportunity to expand upon the debrief I provided to you on March 20. I recognize that you and your staff are aware of these issues, but I thought it would be helpful to detail them in writing nonetheless.

We heard a number of concerns that echo complaints we have heard across the Canadian Armed Forces related to the Integrated Relocation Program (IRP), Post Living Differential (PLD) allowances and the condition of Residential Housing Units (RHUs).

IRP and PLD

With regards to IRP and PLD, the Department is working directly with the Treasury Board Secretariat to update both programs. We have had multiple engagements with Canadian Armed Forces and Departmental officials over the past several years with regard to these programs and have flagged the chronic need to address deficiencies.

I met with the Chief of Military Personnel earlier this week and specifically relayed the feedback I received on IRP and PLD from personnel and families during my recent visits to Halifax, Gander, Goose Bay, Moose Jaw and St. John’s.

RHUs

With regard to Residential Housing Units, I meet regularly with the CEO of the Canadian Forces Housing Agency (CFHA) to discuss concerns that are brought to my attention by military personnel and family members. When it comes to the cost of heating RHUs ($600 per month), the situation in Gander was amongst the worst this office has seen. I will relay this and other observations directly to the CFHA CEO in a separate follow up.

Relocations

Relocations, and the accompanying ripple effects on families, were prominently featured as the biggest single source of frustration for many military families in our November 2013 Report, On the Homefront: Assessing the Well-being of Canada’s Military Families in the New Millennium. Mortgage-breaking penalties and real estate losses were brought up as significant concerns by a number of Gander-based personnel. I informed town hall attendees that my office is working directly on tools to help better inform members prior to them making real estate purchases. Additionally, my office has taken an active role on a number of high-profile Housing Equity Assistance (HEA) cases and has urged the Department to update the program to better meet current market conditions.

Frustrations with Brookfield were flagged by Gander personnel, and there is the perception that the Canadian Armed Forces is steadily reducing benefits associated with cost moves to the detriment of members and families. Many of these same observations were captured in the On the Homefront report. I am pleased to say that the Canadian Armed Forces accepted all of our recommendations contained in that report. To that end, we await the results of Department’s engagement with Treasury Board on planned improvements to the Integrated Relocation Program.

Dependent Medical Travel

The biggest Gander-specific concern that was raised during town halls related to medical care for dependents. In fact, all town hall meetings brought up the issue. As you already know, CBI 209.992(1)(b) removed the entitlement for 9 Wing Gander personnel to be reimbursed for incidentals, lodgings and meals (IL&M) expenses when they are required to be in St. John’s for medical reasons. With RHUs and transient quarters no longer being available at Canadian Forces Station St. John’s the financial impact is severe on families who have no choice but to be in St. John’s for multiple days.

I have had my staff look into Dependent Medical Travel policies and the situation faced by 9 Wing Gander personnel and their families. There is clearly an unfair gap in entitlements, which greatly disadvantages Gander-based members through no fault of their own.

I have raised the issue directly with the Chief of Military Personnel. He informs me that Medically Isolated Posts will soon be granted full IL&M entitlements in support of dependent medical travel. This will effectively address the current policy gap for 9 Wing Gander. That said, we will track the issue until it is formally resolved.

Civilian Employees – Classification 

We heard a number of concerns from civilian employees regarding delays in classification reviews. I will be raising this issue with the Associate Deputy Minister (Human Resources-Civilian) as I have heard similar complaints about classification review delays at several bases and wings across the country. I am considering the civilian classification review process as an area for future investigation. In the interim, we have a number of individual cases we are pursuing through existing channels of recourse.

Aging Infrastructure

Plans for new infrastructure notwithstanding, the requirement for space heaters, and in some cases blankets, brought home the challenge for 9 Wing personnel to stay warm in aging and poorly insulated buildings.

9 Wing Leadership

In closing, I would like to pass on a highly positive observation: All groups we met with praised the work and approach of 9 Wing leadership. On this note, I would like to thank you and your leadership team for your commitment to the men and women who serve under your command. Thank you to staff for their help in the organization and implementation of a very successful constituent engagement visit.

Sincerely,
 

Gary Walbourne
Ombudsman

c.c.:

Lieutenant-General J.A.J.Y. Blondin
Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force

Lieutenant-General D.B. Millar
Chief of Military Personnel

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