Letter to Wing Commander Greenwood : Following Ombudsman’s Visit

6 April 2017

 

Colonel P.A. Thauberger
Wing Commander
14 Wing Greenwood
PO Box 5000 Station Main
Greenwood, NS B0P 1N0

 

Dear Colonel Thauberger:

I am writing to follow up on my visit to 14 Wing Greenwood from 6 to 9 February 2017.  I want to thank your command team, especially Lieutenant-Colonel Bruno Baker and Chief Warrant Officer Wilson for their openness and hospitality throughout our visit.

My staff and I were pleased to have had the opportunity to engage with the Defence Community at your Wing.

This letter is to expand upon the end of visit debrief I provided to Lieutenant-Colonel Baker and Chief Warrant Officer Wilson on 9 February and highlight some of the concerns raised during the visit. I recognize that you and your staff are aware of these issues; however, I thought it would be helpful to detail them and to offer you our assistance should you wish to follow up on any of these matters. I am a firm believer that collaboration and the sharing of best practices can lead to long-lasting positive change.

Some of the key topics we have heard at all levels are:

  • General fatigue at the Wing as a consequence of past two years of high operational tempo
  • Insufficient mental health resources
  • Lack of resources or difficulty in accessing services in French both at the Wing and in the Community - this was a constant complaint during my visit
  • Spousal unemployment
  • Operation IMPACT and its toll on families and especially teens’ morale
  • Care for the caregivers who try to respond to demand that exceeds their capacity and, in some cases, their expertise to provide adequate care
  • The challenge of recruitment, retention and attrition
  • The lasting effects of the 1994 Forces Reduction Plan

More specific to your Wing and the pilot military occupation, I share the concerns your command team has about the attrition of pilots. When the civilian economy is going well, CAF pilots are approached directly by civilian airlines. The option of working exclusively as a pilot (flying) instead of other required CAF duties and managerial responsibilities is very attractive. The prospect of a better quality of life makes it difficult for the CAF to be the employer of choice. This year only, Air Canada is recruiting 400 pilots.

Military Family Resource Centre

The team at the Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC), led by Ms. Margaret Reid, is a motivated, dedicated and caring group that makes a difference. The MFRC staff is a true example of personalizing services to the needs of the members, parents and families that access their services. It is also one of the locations where the Family Liaison Officer is very engaged, both in the resource centre and the Integrated Personnel Support Centre. It is encouraging to see such collaboration.

Some issues brought forward on behalf of the families were:

  • Spousal unemployment is a frustration we have heard from all groups
  • The additional challenges for unilingual Francophone spouses, for example the need to translate a CV or coordinate the transfer of provincial health coverage while battling with a language barrier
  • Operation IMPACT - shorter but more frequent deployments disrupt families, who have to constantly readjust. It is reported that there is an increase in depression and anxiety disorders for those who stay behind, particularly teenagers
  • The time it takes and the cost involved to obtain re-accreditation for spousal employment; for some it does not seem worth the effort as employment in the Valley in their field is limited or absent

A positive fallout of the limited employment opportunities for spouses is that it creates a larger pool of volunteers for the MFRC than seen at other Bases or Wings and reduces the need for fulltime childcare. A pool of volunteers exists with diverse backgrounds and expertise that the entire Greenwood Defence Community can profit from, share and take as a growth opportunity.

Families

We had excellent turnout at the Families engagement evening on 7 February. While many issues shared were personal in nature, there is one I am compelled to share with you:

  • The lack of continuity for health and dental care services coverage for families when members are posted from one province to another.  This negatively affects spouses, children and even CAF members. For example, being on a waiting list for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in Greenwood does not help once posted to a new province; it is back to square one. The same goes for assessing the requirements for special needs children. This is a struggle we see throughout the Canadian Armed Forces

Families of the Fallen

This is the second Wing/Base where I have also met with Families of the Fallen. The Wing Family Liaison Officer is very involved and I commend her for her work. It strikes me how families must fight to obtain the required information on a deceased member to apply for and confirm their entitlement to survivor benefits. This is true across the Canadian Armed Forces. I will share my concerns with the incoming Commanding Officer Joint Personnel Support Unit.  I will be releasing a collaborative review Support to Bereaved Military Families in April and will be closely monitoring progress on doing better at meeting the needs of families.

Benefits, Moves and Post Living Differential

There were a number of issues raised surrounding relocation and related benefits. Members lacked information on pending changes to the national contract for relocations, and how these might affect them. The lack of flexibility within the Relocation Benefits, including Home Equity Assistance, and the freeze of the Post Living Differential allowance rates since 2008 were pointed out as problematic.

Members still bring up the way the 2012 strategic review has affected relocation benefits. The absence of grandfathering for mortgage breaking penalties and local moves for intended place of residence, are the policies causing the most frustrations and perceived as a lack of consideration for CAF members.

Other questions asked were related to:

  • Posting Allowance for members with dependants compared with single members
  • Service couples’ challenges regarding who the dependants live with, leave travel assistance and imposed restriction
  • The need to modernize the definition of family
  • The terms of service not being adapted to the millennial generation for who in five years may seem like long term
  • Concerns about the management of succession planning in consideration of age and years to serve instead of considering the perfect fit for the job
  • The negative impact of Reservists no longer being allowed to draw their Regular Force pension and transferring to the Reserves to retain corporate knowledge

While some of these are national issues that I will continue to raise personally with the Minister of National Defence, it is important that you be aware that these issues are of significant concern to the members of 14 Wing. The approach that successive governments have taken on these issues has been neither member-centric nor based on a sound policy rationale. The longer they remain unresolved, the more Canadian Armed Forces members and families will suffer.

Releases and Pension Payment Delays

Members, especially non-commissioned members, have consistently said how worried they are about their retirement or even their medical release. The delays experienced in receiving the pension payment is on everyone’s mind. Living without income for six months when a member has a right to his or her pension is unsustainable.

Physical, Mental and Spiritual Care Providers

I met with members and staff associated with the chaplaincy, medical practitioners and social workers. They shared the following concerns:

  • Staffing has been qualified as “a nightmare”.  The question of insufficient FTEs, the issue of not being authorized to “double bunk” during periods of extended leave, the difficulty finding specialists to fill positions on a temporary basis. If a candidate applies, then it is the headache of security clearance and staffing before the person has to be told pay will be delayed because of Phoenix. This has a direct impact on health care for members and health of your health care staff
  • Mental health staff ratios are dated before Afghanistan. The demand for mental health services has increased and it is not sustainable. By the nature of the work done by 14 Wing CAF members, there is a high exposure to trauma.  Some have expressed that they feel left to their own devices; and that it is difficult to find time to consult with colleagues as a sounding board
  • There is a need for education within the different providers (care delivery units, psychosocial services, chaplaincy) to minimize the barriers to CAF members accessing care
  • At many levels, staff voiced their struggle with job readiness (operations), addictions treatment (voluntary basis and when ready) as well as the “harm reduction model” (clinical) conflicting with a punitive one (disciplinary). There were also comments regarding how CAF’s disciplinary system does not work towards correcting the behavior. Today’s issues are complex and how they are being addressed needs to be revisited
  • The absence of French speaking Chaplain has been raised a few times.  Greenwood has a significant French speaking population that goes without a comparable level of service to that which the English speaking population enjoys
  • Staff suggested that trauma treatment in the CAF should have its own timeline, so people could get better instead of rushing to meet the timelines “imposed” by medical categories’ duration

I have shared these concerns with the both the current and the incoming Surgeons General.

Integrated Personnel Support Centre and Joint Personnel Support Unit

The staff and members of the Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU) and Integrated Personnel Support Centre (IPSC) contributed to very open and productive conversations.

  • Both staff and members have pointed to stigma as being a major barrier At 14 Wing, impeding access to care and recovery
  • It is noted that members get posted to JPSU as a last resort rather than when services are required and would prefer a focus on return to work probabilities instead of pointing to release
  • Burnout of front line staff at the IPSC. Without the partnership with OSISS, Chaplains, Family Liaison Officer and Medical Staff, IPSC staff would not be able to accomplish what they do
  • Caregiver burnout is real.  Veterans Affairs Canada caregiver benefit is there but accessing it is another story. Members and spouses give up. They don’t have the energy to fight it
  • The front-line staff mentioned how CAF members worry about their upcoming release due to the delays in receiving their pension.  They worry they cannot afford to release because of delays in pension payments
  • There is confusion and fear of losing access to psychological services in the Valley upon release
  • Members are very concerned about some services (e.g. support groups) no longer being available
  • Members stated some services are missing or lacking, for example, help in filling out required forms, or coordinating follow-up appointments

I was pleased to see that the educational product The Three Phases of Transition that my Office has published online is being used both by members and staff as a guide to the medical release process.

Civilian Employees

My team and I had a very productive session with 14 Wing civilian staff. While we heard a number of individual stories, one common complaint relates to Phoenix.  Several employees have been affected by the Phoenix compensation web application: not receiving pay, receiving partial pay, failure to reinstate pay after sick leave, and failure to pay overtime, to name a few. Because of Phoenix issues, others have had their dental and medical benefits ceased. This has a direct impact on their capacity to focus on work.

I would like to highlight that many of these concerns echo complaints we have heard across the Defence Community. Some of these issues will feed into our systemic reviews and are part of my engagement with the senior cadre within the DND/CAF.

Canadian Forces Housing Agency (CFHA)

This is the first Wing and Base where I have been that families did not discuss issues with CFHA regarding Residential Housing Units. The upcoming projects that CFHA have planned are welcomed.

In closing, I would like to commend you and your senior leadership team for your deep commitment to the men and women who serve under your command. I recognize that the issues and challenges you are confronting are, to some extent, beyond your control.  I encourage you to continue to address the local concerns within your Wing. Please do not hesitate to contact the office or myself should you require assistance.

I would also like to thank your staff for their help in the organization and implementation of a very successful constituent engagement visit.

Sincerely,

 

Gary Walbourne
Ombudsman

 

c.c.:     Lieutenant-General C. A. Lamarre
            Commander of Military Personnel Command


            Lieutenant-General M.J. Hood
            Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force

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