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National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman

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Injured, ill military personnel deserve an easier transition to civilian life

Post by Guest on Wed 27 Sep 2017, 07:31

Injured, ill military personnel deserve an easier transition to civilian life

Sept 26, 2017

Gary Walbourne is the National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman

On a near daily basis, Canadians read about how difficult the transition from military to civilian life can be for a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. Sadly, much of the difficulty lies in the red tape and bureaucracy that was built to support them during that transition.

For example, to be eligible for benefits and services from Veterans Affairs Canada, a current or former member must wait months for the department to decide whether their illness or injury was a result of their service. The Canadian Forces knows when, where and how the member was injured or became ill. Based on the evidence it has, the Canadian Forces decides whether a member can continue serving or should be released. It therefore raises the question: If the Forces has enough evidence to end a member's career, why is that not sufficient to determine eligibility for benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada?

Globe editorial: The Canadian military needs to stop making terrible situations even worse

Who we choose to remember – and who we let history forget – defines us

Imagine a system in which the Canadian Forces simply checks a box indicating that a member's illness or injury can be reasonably attributed to their service. Once that box is checked, Veterans Affairs immediately accepts that decision and determines what benefits and services the member is entitled to, not whether the member is entitled to them. Additionally, rather than wait for a supplementary adjudication on whether they qualify for priority status when applying for post-military employment with the federal public service, they were immediately added to the list. Two adjudications designed to determine the same outcome. This provides the members and their families peace of mind rather than profound uncertainty when considering a second career before release from the Canadian Forces.

The reality is much different. Waits for Veterans Affairs adjudications remain lengthy. In terms of determining priority hiring status for ill or injured members, the results have been dismal.

In July, only 2 per cent of decisions were rendered within the four-month service standard. Year to date, the figure is 29 per cent. These are problems that result from the systems that we have built, which means solutions can be developed. Members are potentially missing out on employment opportunities as a result of these delays.

Since 2015, through the publication of two reports and multiple appearances before parliamentary committees and media outlets, I have called for the system to be overhauled to reflect the best interests of current and former members of the Forces. Having the Forces determine whether an illness or injury is associated with a member's service is the only way to eliminate painful periods of uncertainty. This thorough review is completed by those who determine if release is appropriate for any service member. What is the point of any additional review?

Should my recommendations be accepted by this government, the 16-week standard wait for Veterans Affairs benefits and services, as well as priority hiring determinations, would be significantly reduced.

Nothing should stand in the way of putting current and former members of the Forces first in the decision-making process; especially not the bureaucracy that created it. Standing up for your constituency and challenging the unfairness when appropriate is the role of an ombudsman. Whether to make those changes is the role of Parliament. The only people waiting for decisions are current and former members of the Canadian Forces.


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Too many grieving families left in the dark: military ombudsman

Post by Guest on Tue 25 Apr 2017, 05:53

Too many grieving families left in the dark: military ombudsman

RENATA D’ALIESIO The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Apr. 25, 2017

The military needs to improve how it deals with grief-stricken families after a soldier dies, as too many have to fight to find out what led to their loved one’s death, concludes a new report from the Canadian Forces ombudsman.

The report, released on Tuesday, includes several recommendations for improving how information is shared with families after a death and for enhancing the military’s board of inquiry system, which examines what factors contributed to a serious injury or fatality, including suicide.

Gary Walbourne, the National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman, found that the military’s engagement with families varied wildly from case to case. Many families felt they had to hound the military for information, while some believe they’ve never been told the whole story.

“Families should not have to chase after information they have a right to access – whether the death happened during operations or not – they should be assisted in their efforts to obtain it,” the ombudsman’s report states.

In several instances, the lack of timely, concrete information added to a family’s confusion about the military’s system for investigating deaths and ultimately made the grieving process harder.

“It just brings [healing] to a full stop if they feel, for some reason, there is some information they should be entitled to but are not receiving,” Mr. Walbourne said in an interview. “It leaves doubt in their mind. Those type of things manifest.”

The case of Private Thomas Welch, chronicled in The Globe and Mail on Monday, illustrates why this issue matters, Mr. Walbourne said.

The 22-year-old soldier took his own life in May, 2004, just three months after returning from the Afghanistan war. Yet, nearly 13 years later, his family is still waiting for answers from the military.

Pte. Welch, an infantryman with the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, was the first Canadian soldier to kill himself after serving in the volatile operation, a Globe investigation discovered.

The Forces confirmed last week that no board of inquiry was conducted to examine what factors contributed to the young soldier’s death and whether there were lessons to help prevent other suicides. Only a lesser summary investigation was done, and its findings were never shared with the family.

The investigation report, which the military retrieved from the government’s Library and Archives Canada after The Globe made several inquiries last year, will soon be presented to the family, a military spokesperson said.

The long wait for answers has been heart-wrenching, said Pte. Welch’s mother, Anita Cenerini. She repeatedly asked for information, but received scant details. Eventually, the struggle for truth wore her down.

“The passage of time doesn’t change anything when an injustice has occurred,” she said Monday. “I never got closure.”

Boards of inquiry into military suicides were not mandatory in 2004, but had been carried out in other cases.

Rules were changed in August, 2008, making inquiries the standard in deaths by suicide. But practices for sharing information with families remain inconsistent and the robustness of the internal probes varies.

Several families of soldiers lost to suicide have told The Globe they felt marginalized by the inquiry process – and even targeted for blame in some cases. More than 70 Afghanistan war veterans have killed themselves after serving in the mission, the newspaper’s continuing probe of military suicides has found. Many were dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illnesses related to their deployments.

Suicides have been at the heart of many boards of inquiry in recent years. Of the 54 inquiries held over a two-year span ending in June of 2016, 35 involved suspected suicides.

The internal inquiries, which are not open to the public or media, used to take several years to conclude, but improvements have been made and most final reports are completed between nine months to a year after the death review is ordered, the ombudsman’s report notes.

The ombudsman’s review of how bereaved families are handled by the military was done in collaboration with the Canadian Forces. Mr. Walbourne wants the military to provide families with more and better information on its board of inquiry process and grief-support programs. He proposes developing guidelines for commanding officers to meet with families who want to know what happened to their loved one.

Mr. Walbourne’s review also found that more training is needed for military workers appointed to the role of designated assistants, who help support families after a soldier’s death.

Moreover, many of the guides and reference materials that the assistants rely on to help families are outdated or missing pertinent information, the ombudsman discovered. The resources are also not located in one place.

Mr. Walbourne recommends establishing a permanent military working group to ensure that policies, guides and training are updated and responsive to families’ needs.

The military’s top commander supports the ombudsman’s findings and recommendations. In a letter to the ombudsman dated Feb. 17 and included in the report, General Jonathan Vance said he wants to make sure that families receive “the best possible support at their most vulnerable time.”

“We learned a great deal during the Afghanistan campaign and have improved our processes considerably.” Gen. Vance wrote. “However, there is more work that can be done.”


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Ombudsman accuses National Defence of 'insidious' attacks

Post by Guest on Sun 02 Apr 2017, 14:55

Ombudsman accuses National Defence of 'insidious' attacks

Canadian Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne appears at a Senate veterans affairs committee in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, April 2, 2017 12:03PM EDT

OTTAWA -- Canada's military ombudsman has dropped the gloves in what appears to have become a tense battle with National Defence, accusing officials of "insidious" attacks whenever his office releases a report critical of the department.

Gary Walbourne said those attacks have affected his ability to hold the Defence Department to account, which by extension is having a negative impact on the military personnel he is working to help.

The ombudsman said the best way to solve the problem is to make his office, which was created in the aftermath of the Somalia Inquiry, fully independent from the department.

"I think this office should report to Parliament," Walbourne told The Canadian Press. "That way there is a certain standard and process that has to be respected."

The Trudeau government has so far rejected Walbourne's request, with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan encouraging the two sides to work together to resolve their differences.

Sajjan noted in a letter to Walbourne that the current relationship, in which defence officials oversee the ombudsman's finances and human resources, was the result of a scathing auditor general's report.

Auditor general Michael Ferguson blasted the department in 2015 for not keeping closer tabs on Walbourne's predecessor, Pierre Daigle, who approved his own expenses and flaunted contracting rules.
Sajjan said that while he valued the ombudsman's mandate and "operational independence," in his view the current arrangement was working.

"In addition, this model mirrors almost all other similar offices across government and meets the test of proper stewardship of resources," Sajjan wrote.

The ombudsman's office has a budget of about $6 million per year and, according to officials, receives about 13,000 calls from active and retired military personnel each year.

It is currently working on 1,900 cases, many of which officials say relate to problems with the transition from military to civilian life.
Walbourne, who took over as ombudsman in April 2014, said he has worked hard to clean up Daigle's mistakes, but the department's tight grip on his office's finances is now being used against him.

He alleged that a pattern has developed whereby defence officials make life more difficult for his office any time it releases a report they don't like.
"You can almost trend my administrative burdens and the way this office is received with my systemic reviews when I release them and there's a challenge to the department to change something," he said.

"The administrative burden gets a little bit more. Things get delayed a little bit. It's insidious."
In his letter, Sajjan wrote that Walbourne should contact him directly "if ever you feel that your ability to carry out your duties is being constrained."

But Walbourne went so far as to suggest Sajjan is part of the problem.
He said the defence minister's "nebulous" response to two recent ombudsman's reports is emblematic of his overall approach to the office.
Over the past six months, Walbourne has called for better support for cadets who are hurt in uniform, and for the military to keep injured personnel in the fold until their veterans' benefits are lined up.

Sajjan said the department would review the ombudsman's recommendations, but also defended the services available to cadets and said it's not the military's job to secure benefits for injured members.

"I believe the minister gave me the responses he did because he only listened to the evidence from one side," Walbourne said, adding that offers to brief the minister and his staff on his past reports have gone unanswered.

That is another reason for the ombudsman's office to report to Parliament, Walbourne said -- to make sure his reports aren't simply ignored.
But Sajjan's spokeswoman, Renee Filiatrault, said the defence minister has met with Walbourne on several occasions, and that he stands by his belief that the current arrangement is working.

"The minister values the substantive input, mandate and operational independence of the ombudsman's office," Filiatrault said in an email, "which is why the ombudsman has a direct reporting relationship to the minister."


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Statement from the Ombudsman

Post by Guest on Thu 30 Mar 2017, 18:47

Statement from the Ombudsman on the Release of His Report on Governance

March 28, 2017

Today I release a report titled The Case for a Permanent and Independent Ombudsman Office: The Defence Community Deserves No Less

This report to the Minister of National Defence makes one recommendation:

It is recommended that the Minister of National Defence support the enactment of legislation aimed at giving the Office of the Defence Ombudsman organizational permanence and independence from the Department of National Defence with respect to all functional authorities.

This recommendation, if accepted, will finally position the organization as a totally independent voice on behalf of all members of the Defence community.

Over the past 19 years most all of those who have held this Office, at some point in their tenure, have come to the same conclusion.

The working relationship with the department has and continues to be the cornerstone on how we work together to move things forward.

To have the recommendations concerning National Defence personnel elevated to Parliament shows both transparency and willingness. Transparency to have issues facing national defence personnel and their families raised at the national parliamentary level, and willingness to honestly and openly speak to the concerns raised by the community and to promote fulsome timely responses to these recommendations.

To close, as all finance and human resources authorities are delegated through the Deputy Minister of National Defence, this places unrealistic and bureaucratic restrictions on this organization. Whether intended or unintended, applying a bureaucracy that mirrors the processes and approaches of a $20 billion organization to an organization with an operating budget of $6 million makes little to no sense at all. Examples that this cumbersome process has on the operations of this organization have been provided, in detail, to the Minister of National Defence for consideration.

This report is not about me. I have always publicly stated I am a one-term Ombudsman. Additionally, the Minister has indicated on multiple occasions that the acceptance and implementation of recommendations do not reflect on the individual Ombudsman himself, but the need to right wrongs.1 I could not agree more. This is about how best to position this office to serve the interests of the defence community for the coming decades. They deserve no less.

Should the Minister agree with the recommendation, I am fully committed to working with him and the Department of National Defence to fulfill this commitment prior to the expiration of my mandate. This will allow the next Ombudsman to work under a legislated mandate from day one of his term.

I look forward to the Minister’s response and as always will keep my constituents and the Canadian people advised as we move forward.

Gary Walbourne


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Watchdog’s report slams military for treatment of ill, injured cadets

Post by Guest on Thu 26 Jan 2017, 12:39

Watchdog’s report slams military for treatment of ill, injured cadets

Thursday, January 26, 2017 10:40:09 EST AM

Canadian Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne appears at a Senate veterans affairs committee in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 4, 2016. The Canadian Forces ombudsman is taking the military to task for its treatment of ill and injured cadets, saying little has changed since a deadly grenade explosion at a cadet camp in 1974.

OTTAWA — The Canadian Forces ombudsman is taking the military to task for its treatment of ill and injured cadets, saying little has changed since a deadly grenade explosion at a cadet camp in 1974.

In a report to be released Thursday, ombudsman Gary Walbourne says the military must do more to ensure cadets who suffer long-term injuries or illness while in uniform get similar levels of support and compensation as their instructors and other service members.

That isn’t currently the case, says the report — cadet instructors and serving military personnel are eligible for large disability payments and other supports that cadets themselves are unable to access.

“Overall, we found that Canadian cadets, although treated fairly following minor incidents, are not treated on par with Canadian Armed Forces members or civilians involved in cadet activities when it comes to compensation for serious, life-changing injuries and illness,” says the report.

Walbourne says little has changed in the more than 40 years since a live grenade exploded at a cadet summer camp in Valcartier, Que., killing six teens and leaving dozens of others with lifelong physical and psychological injuries.

The federal government is negotiating compensation for those cadets after an earlier report from Walbourne concluded that the surviving cadets did not get the same physical, mental or financial assistance as instructors and serving personnel.

Today’s cadets, Walbourne said, are facing the same challenges, and yet the only way they or their families can receive the same benefits is to go to court. Otherwise, the maximum cadets can receive for a life-long injury or disability is $20,000.

Civilian volunteers, on the other hand, are entitled to up to $100,000 while regular military personnel and reservists could receive $250,000, in addition to workers’ compensation or other support through Veterans Affairs Canada.

“When it comes to access to long-term care and compensation, not much has changed since the 1974 Valcartier grenade incident,” the latest report says. “More needs to be done to support our most vulnerable participants of the cadet program.”

In a letter responding to the ombudsman’s report, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said National Defence will review the findings with an eye towards ensuring cadets are properly cared for.

About 54,000 Canadian youth between the ages of 12 and 18 are enrolled in the land, sea and air cadets. The program has a budget of about $250 million and relies on serving personnel, reservists and instructors drawn from local communities who receive special commissions as military officers.

Military officials say the program is designed to teach youth how to become good citizens. It is also seen as an important way to familiarize young people with the Canadian Forces.

Cadets are not serving military members, but the report says National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces have a responsibility to provide “accessible and equitable support to cadets (and their families) if they are injured, become ill or die as a result of events falling under their supervision.”

The ombudsman’s report does not provide details on how many cadets become hurt or sick while in uniform each year.


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Soldiers leaving military need more support: Canadian Forces ombudsman

Post by Guest on Mon 09 Jan 2017, 15:48

Soldiers leaving military need more support: Canadian Forces ombudsman

Emily Lazatin
January 09, 2017 12:36 pm

Another call to change how Canada transitions its Canadian Forces members after leaving the military.

That coming from the Canadian Armed Forces ombudsman after a Nova Scotia veteran killed his mother, wife, and 10-year-old daughter, before killing himself.

Ombudsman Gary Walbourne is calling for adequate support before soldiers leave the military to deal with Post-traumatic stress disorder.

He says the military needs to be pro-active and act while soldiers are on duty.

“No member of the Canadian Armed forces be released until all benefits and services from all sources, not just from Veterans Affairs Canada, but from all sources are in place prior to releasing that member. I think if we could get there we can start to minimize the number of stories who slip through the crack.”

He says waiting too long can affect soldiers.

“I don’t know why we are waiting, how long do we wait. There’s been people calling for recommendations for the last 6,7,10, 15 years. It’s time for some change to happen. I don’t believe we have to wait until we have the 100 per cent solution. If we know certain things will help to move these things forward, why aren’t we doing it?”

Walbourne says recommendations were made to the department of defence last September and years before that.


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Re: National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman

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