Opening Remarks at the House of Commons Standing Committee—National Defence (NDDN)

Gary Walbourne, DND/CAF Ombudsman
October 25, 2016


Thank You Mr. Chair and Good Morning to All.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you about my work as National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman. I propose to briefly review what my office has been doing lately, some major projects we are working on, and the critical focus we are placing on the problems faced by members of the military when they transition to civilian life. I will then of course be happy to answer any questions you may have.

My office was established as a neutral and objective mediator, investigator and reporter on matters related to the DND and CAF, also as Special Advisor to the Minister of National Defence. Our investigations, reports and educational pieces are not intended to diminish this important organization. Rather as Ombudsman I am here to provide independent, evidence-based recommendations intended to contribute to substantial and long lasting improvements to the welfare of the Defence Community.

It is not part of my mandate to discuss theatres of operation, strategic defence policy or military procurement.

Three weeks ago, during the Minister of Veterans Affairs’ stakeholder summit, the Deputy Commander of Military Personnel Command, Major General Eyre stated that our country’s security is threatened by systemic personnel issues because they directly affect recruitment and retention. I have long held the position that outdated policies and procedures hinder the engagement of capable and committed personnel.

I am now half-way through my mandate as Ombudsman, and have been privileged to meet with members of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces—and their families—from coast to coast to coast. Wherever I go, I find members of the Defence Team working hard and professionally to protect Canadians.

Since 2014, my reports to the Minister of National Defence, which have been publicly released, have included recommendations on a wide range of topics, including:

  • priority hiring in the public service;
  • operational stress injuries;
  • compensation options and periodic health
  • assessments for Reservists; and
  • an investigation into the tragic events at Valcartier that took the lives of six young cadets in 1974.

Many of the complaints we receive can be solved quite easily.

Wearing the uniform should not, for example, require a member to suffer unreasonable financial losses on the sale of their home when they are posted. The Home Equity Assistance program exists for this purpose, but it provides insufficient protection.

That’s fixable.

Members and their families should be properly protected from the impact of huge variations in the cost of living at different posts to which their employer sends them. The Post Living Differential program exists, however, it has been bounced between the Department of National Defence and Treasury Board and has not been updated since 2008.


These problems are not beyond comprehension—nor are they too tough to crack. The military that landed on Juno Beach can surely figure out whether a loaf of bread costs the same in Shilo as it does in Esquimalt or Borden or Bagotville. We cannot keep playing musical chairs on this issue. We must sit and make a decision. Working together, we know what to fix and, in almost all cases, we know how to fix it.

In the coming months, I will submit reports to the Minister of National Defence on the care received by ill and injured Cadets. I intend to shed light on the maze of administration facing parents and guardians of these young people should tragedy strike while they are in the care of the Canadian Armed Forces.

My office is also conducting a systemic review on the Canadian Rangers, whose vigilance and service is often little-known in more southerly parts of our country. In this report, I will touch on chronic understaffing, equipment support, compensation challenges, and other personnel and logistical issues.

Finally in the New Year, I plan to issue a report that flows from our study on military Boards of Inquiry that was published in 2015. Developed in collaboration with the Canadian Armed Forces, this update will address issues faced by grieving families during and after a Board of Inquiry.  The report will include concrete recommendations aimed at ensuring that everyone involved is treated with respect.

Ladies and gentlemen, earlier this year the Minister of National Defence made a call for submissions from a variety of stakeholders to help inform the Government’s Defence Policy Review.   My office prepared a comprehensive submission highlighting concerns relating to our Defence Community personnel serving both at home and abroad. It is my sincere hope that this submission is being taken seriously at the right levels.

Today, I would like to highlight some or our findings. Just over half of all contacts made with my office deal with issues surrounding the transition from military to civilian life. Both medically and non-medically releasing members of the Canadian Armed Forces face a daunting administrative process at end of career. In order to provide a clear picture of this complexity, my office, working in partnership with the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman, mapped out the release process.

In September, we published this educational piece to inform our constituents, the Canadian public, officials, and law-makers, like yourselves, on the process that is the root cause of many of the issues surrounding transition. I provided copies to this committee prior to my appearance here today.

In keeping with the mandate letter of the Minister of National Defence and the direction to work with the Minister of Veterans Affairs to reduce complexity and overhaul service delivery, my office has also recently published two reports that speak to simplifying the release process for transitioning members.

In the first report, released to the public in early September, I recommended that the Canadian Armed Forces determine whether an illness or injury is caused or aggravated by that member’s military service and that that determination be presumed by Veterans Affairs Canada to be sufficient evidence to support an application for benefits.

In conducting their adjudication under the New Veterans Charter, Veterans Affairs Canada, as the administrator, considers mostly documentary evidence generated by the Canadian Armed Forces. The evidence consists largely of the member’s medical records and possibly other career related records. Given that the Canadian Armed Forces has control of the member’s career and has responsibility for the member’s medical health throughout that career, such a determination can and should be presumed to be evidence in support of a member’s application for benefits.

The second report, also released in September, proposes a new service delivery model for releasing members. The report contains three straightforward and achievable recommendations:

  1. The Canadian Armed Forces should retain medically releasing members until all benefits from ALL sources, including Veterans Affairs have been finalized and put into place.
  2. A single point of contact, a concierge service, if you will, should be established for all medically releasing members to assist in their transition.
  3. The Canadian Armed Forces should develop a tool that is capable of providing members with information so that they can understand their potential benefit suite, prior to their release.

These three recommendations are founded in evidence and focused on members and their families. They are easy to understand, and could be implemented rapidly if the will exists to do so. My recommendation of having the CAF determine service attribution, in conjunction with a change to the service delivery model, could cut wait times for Veterans Affairs Canada benefits by 50% or more.

Ladies and gentlemen, I truly believe that these recommendations, if implemented, would be game changers. Improving the transition process should be a no-fail mission. I believe that many of the reports submitted by my office serve as a strong blueprint for change within the Canadian Armed Forces and will have positive effects at Veterans Affairs Canada.

It was recently reported that there was a backlog of 11,500 applications at Veterans Affairs Canada.   This means that many releasing members will experience moderate to extreme psychological and financial stress while awaiting adjudication on their files. Many will fall through the cracks. Many already have.

As former Deputy Veterans Ombudsman I have seen this backlog of applications at Veterans Affairs rise and fall, but never by more than a few thousand. These are not people issues, they are process issues. Fixing the service delivery model will mean real and positive change for people who have served, sacrificed and suffered on our behalf.

I want to conclude my remarks by highlighting a theme that runs through much of the work that we do—the need for benefit parity for all who wear the uniform. The concept of benefit parity is not new, but in my four years as Deputy Veterans Ombudsman and two and a half as the DND/CAF Ombudsman I am constantly reminded of the inequity.

Whether it be Regular or Reserve Force, Canadian Rangers or Junior Canadian Rangers, Cadets or even Veterans, benefit disparity continues. My position has always been: a soldier is a soldier; an aviator is an aviator; and a sailor is a sailor. Once you put on the uniform, you are in service to Canada. If you get hurt while you are in uniform—serving Canada—you should be treated equally. I have promised still-serving and former members acrossthis country that I will strongly advocate for benefit parity. I have produced a number of reports that contain evidence-based recommendations on what needs fixing. We just need to do it.

I doubt there is one of you who does not have a current or former member of the Canadian Armed Forces or a Defence Civilian living and working within your constituency. You play a vital role in their lives, as does my office and I enjoy working with many of you on personnel issues, both individual and systemic, as they arise. I believe I have a duty to keep you up to date on my activities so you can feel confident to refer your constituents to my office should they feel like they have nowhere else to turn.

Mr. Chair, distinguished members of the committee, I thank you and stand ready to take your questions.

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