Simplifying the Service Delivery Model for Medically Releasing Members of the Canadian Armed Forces

Message from the Ombudsman | September 26, 2016

As has been well-documented over the past number of years by Parliamentary Committees, the Auditor General, and by my own office, the Maze-like bureaucratic processes that are imposed upon ill or injured members of the Canadian Forces forced to leave military service need to change. The Prime Minister and both Defence and Veterans Affairs Ministers have said as much.

In the words of the current Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jon Vance, “We’ve got to not pay lip service to this; we actually have to do it.” I could not agree more.

Today I am releasing a report aimed at simplifying the transition process for medically releasing members of the Canadian Forces. The report concludes that the current is process is cumbersome, stressful for members and is neither user-friendly nor seamless.

I am proposing a new service delivery model that serves the ill and injured member more effectively and more humanely.

My office routinely receives complaints from ill and injured service members and families about the complexity of having to deal with three distinct entities (CAF, Veterans Affairs and SISIP Insurance), all of whom operate within separate paper-based silos, apply different eligibility criteria and have lengthy timelines for rendering decisions. In short, far too many members are medically released from the military before they learn what medical or financial support, if any, they will receive.

This uncertainty takes a significant toll on both the member and their families. Given that the member is already dealing with an injury or illness, energy which should be focussed on their health and well-being is instead spent on administrative whack-a-mole processes. Ill and injured members must deal with three sets of case managers, fill out 21 separate applications and navigate three sets of eligibility rules and timelines.

On timelines, Veterans Affairs informs members that: “A decision will be made within 16 weeks of receiving all information in support of your application.” This 16-week period does not include the time it takes VAC to obtain medical files from CAF.

If there is no proof of service relationship to an illness or injury, it could mean the denial of benefits and services. While it is not in the nature of most CAF members to complain or document any and all possible health issues during their careers, they are nevertheless left with the burden of proving to VAC that their illness or injury is attributable to or aggravated by their military service.

The assumption by some CAF members is that VAC applies a standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” for eligibility criteria. While this is not the case, injured and ill members do have the right to ask why the Veterans Act is written to allow for the benefit of the doubt to go to the Veteran when the complete opposite standard appears to be applied by VAC.

I have included three recommendations in today’s report aimed at bringing about fundamental, positive change to the overly complex transition process:

  • Retain ill or injured CAF members until all benefits and services from CAF, VAC and SISIP are put in place.
  • Establish a transition concierge service to act as a single point of contact for members and their families. (The UK and U.S. provide this service).
  • Develop a secure web portal (already done by VAC, but not DND and SISIP) single point of entry for all matters related to the transition from CAF to civilian life.

Few Canadians would disagree that ill and injured CAF members deserve a modern support system that is as committed to them as they were serving Canada in uniform.

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