ARCHIVED - Speaking Notes for Pierre Daigle | Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman - For the use at the Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence

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February 5, 2014 | Ottawa, ON

Check Against Delivery

THANK YOU FOR INVITING ME HERE TODAY.

SENATORS, I’VE SERVED AS OMBUDSMAN TO THE DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE AND CANADIAN FORCES FOR FIVE YEARS. IN FACT MY TENURE COMES TO AN END IN TWO WEEKS TIME. IT’S THE LAST CHAPTER IN 44 YEARS OF SERVICE WITHIN THE DEFENCE COMMUNITY. I’VE BE HONOURED TO SERVE AS OMBUDSMAN TO CANADA’S MILITARY WARRIORS AND THOSE WHO SERVE WITH AND SUPPORT THEM.

THIS WILL BE MY LAST APPEARANCE BEFORE A COMMITTEE ON PARLIAMENT HILL. TO THAT END, I AM PLEASED TO BE ABLE TO OFFER UP SOME OBSERVATIONS ON THE DIFFICULT TOPIC OF TRANSITION FOR ILL AND INJURED MEMBERS OF THE CANADIAN FORCES INTO “CIVVY STREET” AS MANY WHO HAVE SERVED KNOW IT.

THE CANADIAN FORCES IS EMERGING FROM MORE THAN 20 YEARS OF CONTINOUS OPERATIONS. THE BALKANS, NAVAL DEPLOYMENTS TO THE PERSIAN GULF, AIR FORCE MISSIONS TO KOSOVO AND LIBYA, MULTIPLE PEACEKEEPING MISSIONS AND OF COURSE COMBAT OPERATIONS IN AFGHANISTAN.

IT’S BEEN AN INTENSE PERIOD. CF PERSONNEL AND THEIR FAMILIES HAVE PAID A PRICE – BUT THAT COST HAS BEEN LARGELY INVISIBLE TO CANADIANS.

I’M PROUD TO SAY THAT THE OMBUDSMAN’S OFFICE HAS BEEN AT THE FOREFRONT OF IDENTIFYING EMERGING ISSUES WITHIN THE CANADIAN FORCES OVER THE PAST DOZEN YEARS. CHIEF AMONGST THEM HAS BEEN OPERATIONAL STRESS INJURIES AND POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER.

I RECENTLY RELEASED A COMPREHENSIVE REPORT INTO THE HEALTH AND WELL BEING OF MILITARY FAMILIES. WHILE THESE FAMILIES ARE RESILIENT, THEY ARE ALSO STRESSED.

MILITARY SPOUSES EXPERIENCE PERIODS OF UNDER OR UNEMPLOYMENT, SACRIFICING CAREERS, CARRYING A DISPROPORTIONATE AMOUNT OF PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY WHILE THE SERVICE MEMBER IS DEPLOYED OR AWAY ON EXTENDED TRAINING.

MORE WORRISOME IS THE IMPACT ON MILITARY CHILDREN AS BOTH THEIR HEALTH AND ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE ARE NEGATIVELY IMPACTED BY THE DEPLOYMENT OF A PARENT.

THE FULL IMPACT OF MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES ARE OFTEN BORNE BY FAMILIES ALONE AS THEY BECOME THE DEFACTO PRIMARY CARE GIVERS AS THE SERVICE MEMBER STRUGGLES WITH WHETHER OR NOT TO SEEK HELP. OFTEN, THIS PERIOD CAN HAVE A DEBILITATING EFFECT ON THE FAMILY UNIT. I’LL TOUCH ON THE RELUCTANCE TO SEEK HELP SHORTLY.

THE OMBUDSMAN’S OFFICE HAS PRODUCED FIVE REPORTS ON THE TOPIC OF PTSD AND OPERATIONAL STRESS INJURIES SINCE 2002. WE ARE ABOUT TO RELEASE ANOTHER ONE IN EARLY SPRING – SPECIFICALLY FOCUSSED ON THE RESERVE FORCE.

THE CANADIAN FORCES HAS COME A LONG WAY IN THE PAST DECADE – BUT HAS IT COME FAR ENOUGH? THAT IS A QUESTION FOR AUGUSTE BODIES LIKE THIS COMMITTEE TO DECIDE ULTIMATELY.

THE PAST WEEK HAS SEEN MUCH EMOTIONAL AND POLITICAL ANGST OVER THE CLOSURE OF VETERANS AFFAIRS OFFICES. PRIOR TO THAT, WE EXPERIENCED A CLUSTER OF SUICIDES IN THE MILITARY WHICH RIGHTLY FOCUSSED ATTENTION ON MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES AND THE CRITICAL IMPORTANCE OF GETTING HELP TO THOSE WHO ARE SUFFERING.

THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT THAT CANADIANS CARE ABOUT THE MEN AND WOMEN IN UNIFORM. I DO NOT DOUBT THAT CONCERN IS UNIVERSALLY SHARED ACROSS PARLIAMENT HILL. BUT STILL I AM WONDERING WHY IT TAKES SO MUCH DISCUSSION, TIME AND EFFORTS TO AGREE TO DO THE RIGHT THING.

MY JOB AS OMBUDSMAN IS TO IDENTIFY ISSUES OF CONCERN AND RECOMMEND HOW THEY CAN BEST BE ADDRESSED.  CREDIT TO THE DEPARTMENT AND CF WHO HAVE LARGELY BEEN VERY RECEPTIVE TO MUCH OF WHAT WE HAVE RECOMMENDED IN THE PAST FEW YEARS.

IN TERMS OF CHALLENGES THAT REMAIN FOR THE CF – THE BIG ONE IN MY OPINION IS GETTING MILITARY PERSONNEL TO SEEK HELP – PARTICULARLY WHERE THE INJURY IS AN INJURY OF THE MIND. THERE ARE TWO HUGE HURDLES A MILITARY MEMBER MUST OVERCOME TO SEEK HELP.

THESE ARE STIGMA AND THE REALITY OF THE UNIVERSALITY OF SERVICE AND POSSIBILITY OF BEING FORCED TO LEAVE THE MILITARY.

THE CF HAS TAKEN MEASURES TO TACKLE INSTITUTIONAL STIGMA, AND THAT HAS DEFINITELY IMPROVED – BUT NO MATTER HOW SUCCESSFUL THE CF IS IN INCREASING AWARENESS AND REDUCING STIGMA, IT IS UNLIKELY TO EVER COMPLETELY DISAPPEAR. IT IS DIFFICULT TO RECONCILE BEING A WARRIOR WITH SUCCUMBING TO AN INJURY OF THE MIND. AN INJURY OF THE MIND IS SOMEHOW SEEN AS WEAK. IF ANYTHING, SELF STIGMA IS PROVING TO BE A HARDER IMPEDIMENT TO TACKLE AND REMAINS AN OBSTACLE TO MANY SOLDIERS SEEKING HELP.

ON THE ISSUE OF UNIVERSALITY OF SERVICE, MY 2012 REPORT, FORTITUDE UNDER FATIGUE CALLED FOR THE CF TO TAKE A MODERN LOOK AT THE UNVERSALITY OF SERVICE.

FAMILIES – THE FOUNDATION TO THE OPERATIONAL EFFECTIVENESS OF THE CANADIAN FORCES – ARE NOT BEING GIVEN ENOUGH SUPPORT BY EITHER DND OR VETERANS AFFAIRS WHEN IT COMES TO DEALING WITH AN ILL OF INJURED MEMBER. THERE ARE A VARIETY OF OPTIONS OFFERED THROUGH ORGANIZATIONS LIKE THE MILITARY FAMILY RESOURCE CENTRES, BUT COUNSELLING ENTITLEMENT IS LIMITED AND HAS TO BE LINKED TO THE TREATMENT OF THE MEMBER.

THE CF HAS A FAMILY CONVENANT BY IT LACKS MEAT ON THE BONE. I’M PLEASED TO SAY THAT DEPARTMENT HAS LARGELY ACCEPTED THE RECOMMENDATIONS MADE IN MY REPORT, ON THE HOMEFRONT.

THE TRANSITION OUT OF THE CF IS NOW MORE COORDINATED AND GIVES A MEMBER A GREATER SHOT AT RETURNING TO ACTIVE DUTY. FOR THOSE WHO ARE MEDICALLY RELEASED, THE TRANSITION EXPERIENCE CAN BE CHALLENGING – MUCH OF IT DEPENDENT ON THE INDIVIDUAL CIRCUMSTANCES AND THE SUPPORT – IF ANY FROM VETERANS AFFAIRS.

AS THE COMMITTEE HAS ALREADY HEARD FROM THE VETS OMBUDSMAN, MANY MEMBERS ARE RELEASED AS MEDICALLY UNFIT FROM THE CF BUT DO NOT QUALIFY FOR VETERANS AFFAIRS SUPPORT. FOR THOSE MEMBERS, ONE INDIVIDUAL DESCRIBED IT TO ME AS THE EQUIVALENT OF BEING PUSHED OFF A CLIFF.

MANY MEMBERS FEEL THEY HAVE TO FIGHT VETERANS AFFAIRS IN ORDER TO PROVE THEIR HEALTH ISSUES ARE RELATED TO SERVICE AND THAT THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT IS NEVER APPLIED TO THE MEMBER.

DND AND VETERANS AFFAIRS HAVE DIFFERENT CRITERIA FOR ASSESSING DISABILITIES. IT SEEMS THAT THE CRITERIA IS STRICTER TO OBTAIN FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM VETERANS AFFAIRS THAN IT IS TO BE RELEASED FROM MILITARY DUTY. THIS IS AN AREA OF UNFAIRNESS WHICH NEEDS TO BE LOOKED AT.

I WILL END MY PREPARED REMARKS HERE AND WELCOME YOUR QUESTIONS THAT EITHER I OR MY DIRECTOR GENERAL OF OPERATIONS WILL BE GLAD TO ANSWER FOR YOU.

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