Message from the Ombudsman (April 19, 2012)

A Systemic Review of the Concerns of Canada's Military Families

I'm pleased to inform constituents about a systemic review that we are launching regarding the care and treatment of - and, in many respects, the unique reality and burden facing - Canada's military families.

Our most visible intervention in recent years has been related to the treatment of military families who have lost a Canadian Forces loved one while serving their country. Our focus on this issue has shed light on a number of other concerns that affect the lives of our military families - including operational tempo; operational stress injuries; medical concerns; and social and community support.

Through our extensive outreach efforts across the country - where we make a point of meeting with as many military families as we can - we have encountered and documented many of these same concerns. We have also received more than 100 complaints over the past year from military families regarding these issues.

I believe Canada's military families are national entities and have a key role to play in maintaining the operational effectiveness of the Canadian Forces. They also sacrifice a great deal for their Canadian Forces loved ones and our country.

It is, in many respects, a unique and very challenging life for military families - resulting in frequent moves (often between provinces and away from other loved ones) and periods of uncertainty; prolonged absences of military spouses; significant anxiety as a result of operational deployments; and extra care for Canadian Forces loved ones who may be injured in the course of their service.

At the same time, military families - and the definition of military families - have also evolved quite significantly over the past few decades to include many more working spouses, single parents, gay couples and other family dynamics. Military culture, policies and practices have not always kept pace with these changes, causing difficulties for many military families.

The Minister of National Defence and the Department and the Canadian Forces have put in place a number of important initiatives over the past few years aimed at providing more support for Canada's military families. However, even with these programs and initiatives, we have found a number of significant and systemic concerns and complaints that have not been resolved uniformly or consistently across the country, if at all.

Moreover, some of the most common concerns and complaints are outside of the control and jurisdiction of National Defence and even the Government of Canada.

In Canada, the provinces are generally responsible for health care, employment and childcare. As a result, some military families - who are being moved throughout Canada by the Canadian Forces - are falling through the cracks and are suffering.

For example, when Canadian Forces members and their families are posted between provinces, many spouses have a great deal of difficultly in accessing timely and adequate health care and child care.

While many Canadians face these same challenges, the problem is more pronounced for military families who may be moved by the Canadian Forces a dozen or more times over the course of a military career. Indeed, Canadian Forces families move three times more often than civilian families and are four times less likely to have a family physician.

Mobility also poses a problem for military spouses seeking employment. So too does the fact that many provinces do not recognize the credentials or expertise of certain military spouses when they are forced to move between provinces.

As part of our upcoming review, we're going to be analyzing the mobility policy and procedures of the Canadian Forces - to determine, in particular, if there are any ways from a policy perspective to ease some of the strain on Canada's military families.

We're also interested in working with our provincial counterparts to look at best practices and see if we can put together some collective recommendations to improve the quality of life of our military families.

We're going to be talking to military families and looking at the care and treatment they have received throughout their experience with the Canadian Forces - from the time their loved ones joined the military, to the initial and ongoing training periods, to the various postings, to the operational deployments, when their military loved ones are injured or killed, and when they leave the Defence community.

Finally, we're going to be looking at whether the Canadian Forces have the appropriate policies, programs and resources in place to properly look after Canada's military families.

As we go forward, I hope that any military families who are struggling or experiencing difficulties will come forward to our office so that we can help them and factor their experiences into our broader review.

Pierre Daigle

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