Message from the Ombudsman (May 12, 2015)

Ombudsman looks into issues at 15 Wing Moose Jaw

This past February, I travelled with my staff to 15 Wing Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, as part of our efforts to make our services more readily available to the Defence community and to gather a first-hand understanding of the issues and challenges our constituents face.
 

We appreciated the time and the openness with which we were met by everyone, particularly given the high tempo of training operations at the Wing.
 

During our visit, several issues were brought to our attention from both civilian employees and military members and families. We discussed these issues, as outlined below, with the Wing Commander upon our departure and in follow-up correspondence.
 

Civilians

We heard a number of concerns from civilian employees regarding staffing, classification and human resources advice. It was mentioned that some work descriptions had not been reviewed in more than ten years and that there is a lack of understanding from the military side on what duties belong to civilians.
 

There have been frequent changes in Human Resource Officers assigned to the Moose Jaw files and this is thought to have had a detrimental effect on the efficiency of staffing and the confidence of managers. It was brought forward that it is difficult to receive assistance and, when obtained, Human Resource support is inconsistent and expertise questionable. For example, a manager requested advice and was provided with a response contrary to what the collective agreement dictates.  
 

Civilians at Moose Jaw would like increased support, communication and transparency. We offered our assistance to the Assistant Deputy Minister of Human Resources – Civilian while following up on these concerns, and also encouraged civilian employees and managers to contact us for general information and individual assistance while they continue to make use of the resources and complaint mechanisms available.
 

Military Members and Families

Military personnel and family members shared issues related to child care and support for families, housing, medical issues and the financial impact of postings to Cold Lake.
 

Military Family Resource Centres

We found the Military Family Resource Centre at 15 Wing to be a dedicated and caring group that truly contributes to making a difference and to connecting with families so they feel at home in Moose Jaw. Every Wednesday morning, the Resource Centre has what they call Welcome Wednesdays where families can meet and get to know one another. Some family members expressed their wish for Welcome Wednesdays to be held a few evenings a month to allow spouses who return to work to continue meeting their ‘second family.’
 

Issues were brought forward about daycare shortages and long wait times for daycare at Moose Jaw. The current solution of casual daycare provided by the Resource Centre’s Early Learning Center is good for many, but does not help families in which two parents work. However, we were informed that a solution is underway with the intent to offer alternate solutions in 2015.
 

Considering the challenges of fundraising to meet the demands, I want to highlight the exemplary collaboration of the Military Family Resource Centre staff, Personnel Support Programs staff and the surrounding community to optimize services to families. They offer important initiatives that are having a real and constructive impact on the lives of military families at Moose Jaw.
 

Housing

In terms of housing at the Wing, renovated barracks with kitchen facilities was brought up as a very positive point for students. But when it came to Residential Home Units, frustration was expressed over the rent charges as well as the lack of services provided by the Canadian Forces Housing Agency and contractors.
 

Serious concerns were expressed with respect to the overall safety of the Moose Jaw Residential Home Units. Members described a variety of situations such as frequent flooding in basements, very large cracks in foundations and basement walls, and poor quality or very old windows requiring covering to prevent heat from escaping. Some also mentioned needing to purchase space heaters to ensure their children’s rooms would not reach freezing temperatures during the nights. Members stated their energy charges are higher than normal due to the state of their units, and that repairs/renovations do not justify the increases in rent charges.
 

Many noted that the services provided by the Canadian Forces Housing Agency are inadequate as there are no after hour services. Consequently, members or spouses have to take time off work and lose wages to accommodate contractors. Members shared that requests for repairs are frequently left unanswered and that required renovations have unreasonably long wait times and are often completed by sub-contractors who are difficult to find because the payment schedule by Canadian Forces Housing Agency often takes over a month. Families feel they have no recourse for the lack of quality work by inexperienced contractors.
 

On a positive note, some members found if they engaged their chain of command this helped in accelerating the required services in a timely manner. However, this is not a viable long-term solution.
 

The lack of Residential Home Units was also of great concern to members in Moose Jaw. Members move their families to the City of Moose Jaw and then have to move again, at their own expense, when a unit at the Wing becomes available. We were informed that priority is given at the Housing Agency’s discretion and that there is no clear direction and policy as to who is eligible for priority housing. Concerns were expressed that the wait time for a unit is over a year. Canadian Armed Forces members are looking for more transparent communication as to how priority housing is assigned and would like to see repair schedules for the units.
 

Medical Issues

Medical operations at 15 Wing are supported by a lodger unit of 17 Wing Winnipeg, which also medically supports a number of Reservists in various other geographical locations, such as Saskatoon and Dundurn. Consequently, it is a challenge providing care for everyone in each of the locations, and referrals to obtain services in the community close to the member are sometimes the only option but very difficult to get approved.
 

The medical staff also highlighted concerns regarding the provision of medical care to Regular Force members due to relying on civilian hospitals for services such as MRIs. A lack of available medical services for families was also mentioned.
 

I am encouraged by the efforts of leadership to support the medical staff in communicating the uniqueness of providing services to members in various locations in Saskatchewan.
 

Integrated Personnel Support Centre and Transition Services

There is a shortage of staff at the Wing’s Integrated Personnel Support Centre, which is having negative consequences on required medical follow ups and the recovery process for ill and injured members. For example, some members are waiting 54 days for a 10-minute follow-up appointment. Additionally, Dundurn has a big demand for services; currently, 26 members’ medical needs are not adequately met by the medical officer’s scheduled visits – once every two weeks.
 

Integrated Personnel Support Centre staff are very grateful for the support provided to them to reorganize the offices and are looking forward to the approved positions being staffed to better support ill and injured members and their families in transitioning to civilian life.
 

In terms of transition services,  the Second Career Assistance Network seminars – designed to assist military personnel in planning and preparing for retirement from the Forces – are difficult to schedule and especially problematic to attend for members on leave (sick leave or retirement leave) as they have to be on duty to attend. In addition, the Personnel Selection Officer, who coordinates and delivers the seminars, is located out of province. The option of filming the next seminar and making the presentation slides and contacts available to all on the Internet, allowing members to access the information at any time, was discussed.
 

Cost of Living

Pilots who have completed their training at 15 Wing often receive postings to Cold Lake.  Some pilot candidates and families expressed concern about the financial impact of postings to Cold Lake and asked when the Post Living Differentials rates would be reviewed. Post Living Differentials allow for differences in the cost of living and the cost for basic necessities between postings. Questions were also asked about pay raises.
 

The concerns were brought up by all military levels and I reiterated that the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Department of National Defence had this issue at hand, but the delay in the upcoming budget is expected to have an impact on the implementation date of the benefit.
 

Training Tempo and Leave

The difficulty in balancing operational requirements to meet production target levels and members and family needs was reflected in concerns brought forward. Spouses were concerned about the safety of their loved ones flying when tired or during icy conditions. The training tempo and not knowing if parental leave requests would be approved were also discussed.
 

Leadership at 15 Wing acknowledged the dilemma and informed us that should each parental leave be granted at the requested periods, they would face a 10% decrease in instructing capacity. I recommended communicating the intent clearly and making decisions quickly as the uncertainty adds further stress to families and members.
 

Intended Place of Residence

On numerous occasions, 15 Wing staff brought up the frustration and perception of unfairness regarding the eligibility criteria for Intended Place of Residence benefits designed to help with the costs of a final move for releasing members.
 

The fact that untrained members, even if medically released, are not eligible for any relocation benefits to return to their place of enrolment is problematic. In other words, a pilot candidate who was enrolled in Newfoundland and is released medically in Moose Jaw is responsible for all costs to return to Newfoundland. In some instances, candidates have families and this can represent a sum of $40,000, coupled with the earnings loss upon release. Only untrained members released for misconduct have their transportation costs reimbursed at Crown expense.
 

Although this is Canadian Armed Forces wide, 15 Wing – like other training Bases and Wings – is raising this concern. I informed the group that Director Compensation and Benefits Administration is well aware of this issue and that it is part of the relocation benefits discussions at Treasury Board.
 

I commend the leadership team at 15 Wing Moose Jaw for their commitment to the men and women who serve under their command. Some of the issues and challenges they are confronting are, to at least some extent, outside of their control, but I am confident they will continue to push as hard as they can to address the concerns that have been brought forward.
 

I am a firm believer that collaboration and sharing best practices leads to long-lasting positive changes and I am pleased to have been able to speak with staff, members and families and to have the opportunity to work with the leaders of 15 Wing to address these concerns.
 

Gary Walbourne
Ombudsman

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