Opening Remarks | Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs

Gary Walbourne - DND/CF Ombudsman

Ottawa, ON | 4 May 2016

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Mr. Chair, honourable senators, thank you for inviting me to appear here today on the topic of services and benefits for transitioning Canadian Forces members and their families.

I thought it may be helpful to give the committee a frank holistic overview of the current transition challenges from my perspective as current Ombudsman for the CF and DND and also as former deputy Veterans Ombudsman.

Despite best efforts, seamless transition for most ill or injured military members still remains a concept, not a lived reality.  

A veteran recently described the transition process to me as, “like trying to untie a large knot in the dark.”

There are a number of programs and services available to a transitioning members but some are overlapping; others frustratingly complex to navigate.  

In addition to DND/CAF, VAC and SISIP – all three of which offer their own case managers and vocational programs – there are numerous third party programs and services available to members. The risk of course is best summed up by the old proverb, “too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the broth.”

Some of the offered programs become inaccessible to members through sheer lack of awareness on the part of a departing member or due to the complexity of the eligibility criteria – perhaps I can come back to this issue during your questions.

For a member being medically released from the Canadian Armed Forces, the bureaucratic labyrinth they must often follow adds angst to an already stressful situation.  Old school paperwork – and lots of it – remains the primary method to obtain benefits and services.

It’s no secret to committee members that veterans often complain of being overwhelmed by endless forms and long delays in adjudications.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are all manner of dedicated VAC and DND personnel engaged in trying to help members transition as smoothly as possible. The problem lies though in a service delivery model that has largely been designed for the 2nd World War / Korean War veteran cohort.

New programs have been bolted onto existing service delivery models. On legislation alone, I can tell you that 29 Acts of Parliament going back 100 years helped define the current VAC suite of services and benefits. DND and CAF for their part also have an array of criss-crossing policies, programs and benefits developed over decades.

The current service delivery model for support to departing military personnel is heavily process-driven with far too many moving parts. Why for instance does the Canadian Armed Forces outsource the determination of attribution of service for illnesses of injuries to VAC? The Surgeon General’s Office already has 100 percent of the information required to medically release a member from the service. In the vast majority of cases, the causal link to service is obvious. It’s right there in the records.

In fact the Canadian Armed Forces has been already doing this for ill and injured reservists for decades to enable receipt of compensation through the government employee compensation act, or through CAF Reserve Force Compensation itself.

Complexity and process delays should not be underestimated as a barrier to a successful transition.

My concern is that people are leaving military service without seeking the support they need – especially those with operational stress injuries. My office has handled a number of such cases.

One final observation about complexity. There are arguably five categories of Canadian Forces member from the point of view of services and benefits.  Each class of soldier, sailor or aviator has different benefits and services in the event of an illness, injury or death. The question I have asked myself is: why?

If a member is wearing a uniform in service to the country, why then treat them and their families differently with services and benefits when they are ill, injured or worse.

Mr. Chair, I’d be happy to address any questions you may have.

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