Progress Report on Recommendations: Determining Service Attribution for Medically Releasing Members

Message from the Ombudsman | 26 June 2018

 

In our report titled Determining Service Attribution for Medically Releasing Members, I recommended that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), not Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) “determine whether an illness or injury is caused or aggravated by that member’s military service and that the CAF’s determination be presumed by VAC to be sufficient evidence to support an application for benefits.” It is my firm belief that because the Canadian Armed Forces know when, where, and how an illness or injury was sustained, they are best positioned to make an appropriate determination. Having Veterans Affairs Canada accept that determination and automatically open an application would virtually eliminate wait-times for benefits and services for medically releasing members of the Canadian Armed Forces. The evidence provided to support this recommendation is by no means revolutionary in nature. Quite simply put: the Department already does it for certain categories of CAF members, including reservists.

When the report was first released, I was surprised that the Minister indicated that while the recommendation had merit, “the CAF has no extant statutory or policy mandate to systematically determine if an illness developed or an injury sustained during a member’s career is related to their military service”. Today I am publishing a progress report indicating that the Minister of National Defence has not accepted the sole recommendation made in that report, and therefore, the recommendation is considered “not implemented”.

In a January 22, 2018 Ministerial response to a follow-up letter I sent him seeking clarification on his position on the recommendation, the Minister went further to say that “it was determined that this initiative would not help meet the goal of improving the transition of ill and injured members, and would introduce unnecessary difficulties, even if the CAF were properly trained and sufficiently resourced to perform this new role”. I believe that the bureaucratized process shared between the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada is the source of many of the delays and frustration of the member transitioning from military to civilian life. The unfortunate result is that wait-times for adjudications at Veterans Affairs Canada continue to grow.

In their May 2018 report titled A Seamless Transition to Civilian Life for All Veterans: It’s Time for Action, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA) specifically recommended that “the Government of Canada make the Department of National Defence responsible for the decision to attribute the cause or aggravation of an injury or illness to military service.” As with all recommendations contained within this report, it was supported by all members of the committee.

The political will seems very much alive at the committee level to implement this recommendation and I encourage the department to re-consider its merits. I believe that the policies and positional papers referenced in Ministerial responses do not adequately address three important considerations: That it is well within current Ministerial purview to direct that my recommendation be implemented; the Canadian Armed Forces already make these determinations; and that previous Ministers have actually determined service attribution themselves in certain circumstances. Our office concluded that this could be implemented without the need for legislation. However, if legislation is required, it can be dealt with relatively quickly through the parliamentary process.

Whether an illness or injury can be reasonably attributed to service is well within the Canadian Armed Forces’ purview. Our office stands ready to work with the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces establish a clear path forward for the implementation of this important recommendation.

 

Gary Walbourne
Ombudsman

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