Ombudsman maps transition system for ill, injured Canadian Forces soldiers

The Canadian flag is seen on the shoulder of a soldier waiting to board an Airbus CC-150 Polaris at CFB Trenton in Trenton, Ont., on Oct. 16, 2014. The Canadian Press/Lars Hagberg

OTTAWA – The military ombudsman has, for the first time, literally mapped out the numerous hurdles which ill and injured soldiers are forced to jump as they leave the Canadian Forces and re-enter civilian life.

The resulting flow charts, published Monday, are a jumble of boxes and arrows that ombudsman Gary Walbourne says underline the need for a simpler transition system for service members whose careers are cut short by injury or illness.

“Medically releasing from the Canadian Armed Forces is complicated,” Walbourne said in a statement. “The burden has taken its toll on members transitioning from military to civilian life and their families. It is evident that a streamlined process is needed.”

The mapping exercise is part of a joint investigation by Walbourne and Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent into the much-maligned transition system, which has been the subject of thousands of complaints over the years.

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The purpose of the maps was to show the “current reality,” Walbourne said, and help the government and officials figure out where they could cut unnecessary red tape to reduce the “administrative burden” on service members.

Ill and injured military personnel have long expressed anger and frustration over what they say is an unnecessarily bureaucratic, onerous and lengthy process for accessing services and benefits when they leave the Forces.

Approximately 1,800 service members are released for medical reasons each year.

The steps that ill and injured personnel are forced to take to leave the military differ, depending on whether they are members of the regular forces or reservists.

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However, according to Walbourne’s maps, both can entail dozens of steps as a person bounces between different organizations and levels of bureaucracy within the Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada. Cases can be referred to a number of officials as they work their way through the system.

Speaking to the House of Commons’ veterans affairs committee in June, Walbourne said seamless transition for most ill and injured military members “remains a concept, not a reality, and is fraught with painstaking challenges.” Efforts to simplify the system, he added, have largely failed.

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Walbourne will make his own recommendations on simplifying the transition system later this month. He and Parent are expected to present the full findings of their investigation in the fall, as well as recommendations to smooth the transition from military to civilian life for ill and injured members.

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The Liberal government has said it also wants to ease the transition for sick and wounded personnel. For the first time, Canada’s veterans affairs minister, Kent Hehr, is also the associate defence minister. The government says the idea is to bridge the gap between the two departments.

Hehr’s mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls for a “seamless transition for Canadian Forces members to the programs and services” at Veterans Affairs. An official said discussions between National Defence, Veterans Affairs and veterans groups are underway.

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