The Ombudsman of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, Gary Walbourne, spoke to the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence this morning about the well-being of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel during their transition and beyond.
Walbourne called out politicians to act on real changes to better the lives of those who have served Canada.
“We have an ocean full of studies and I am just waiting for somebody to wade into the waters and start making decisions. The concept of commissioning a study to study the results of a previous study will no longer pass the public sniff test,” said Walbourne to the committee today.
The Ombudsman pointed out that for too long many needed changes have been dismissed or shelved as being inconvenient.
For example, he mentioned the questions surrounding benefit parity between reservists and regular forces are still unanswered. This was especially highlighted after the tragedies in 2014 when Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo were tragically killed. The government made allowances for greater equal benefits for the family of Cpl. Cirillo, because of public attention, says Walbourne, but the system remains unchanged.
“My position has always been: a soldier is a soldier; an aviator is an aviator; and a sailor is a sailor. Once you put a uniform on, you are in service to Canada. If you get hurt while you are in uniform – serving Canada – you should be treated equally,” noted Walbourne.
Walbourne also updated the committee on the recent reports and statements his office has released on the transition of medically releasing CAF members, including maps completed in conjunction with the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman, released yesterday that chart the complicated process that ill and injured CAF members must go through for release.
“Regarding Transition, I believe that there is a fundamental disconnect between the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada wherein a member must navigate departure from one before entrance into the other,” stated Walbourne.
The Ombudsman adamantly stated the need for the CAF to determine service attribution rather than leaving it on Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) since the CAF is in possession of its members’ health records and can better determine whether an injury was caused as a result of their service. Taking this approach, would cut waiting time by 50 per cent and trim down the current 16 week service standard at VAC.
In addition, a new report is to be released soon that outlines the new service delivery model to ease transition of CAF members. The three major changes include: the CAF retaining medically releasing members until their benefits are finalized and in place; one contact point is established for medically releasing members during transition; and a tool is setup for these members for them to better understand the process and benefits.
“Those in senior leadership positions may tell decision-makers and law-makers, such as yourselves that it cannot be done – that it requires too many new employees, legislative changes, or infusions of millions of dollars into the system. I can assure you that this is not the case. In fact, my Office has found that these changes would come at very little financial cost and would start benefiting members and their families in the immediate/near future. If there is too much complexity it is because we have created it, and it can be undone. All that is needed is the will to do it,” said Walbourne.
With the Ombudsman’s recent focus on ill and injured CAF members transitioning and their benefits, the Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, released a statement yesterday to update the military community on changes coming to veterans income support benefits. Starting Oct. 1, 2016, income support benefits provided by VAC’s Earning Loss Benefit program will be raised from 75 per cent to 90 per cent of a veteran’s pre-release salary. The benefit will be indexed to keep up with inflation.
Those under the Long-Term Disability (LTD) plan do not atomically receive an increased benefit and must apply to VAC’s Rehabilitation program.
For more information about this coming change visit Veterans Affairs Canada’s website