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Stop cutting loose ill, injured soldiers too early, ombudsman tells military

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Stop casting off ill and injured soldiers

Post by Guest on Sat 01 Oct 2016, 06:25

Stop casting off ill and injured soldiers.

Oct. 1, 2016

Sick and injured soldiers are being pushed out of Canada’s military with unseemly haste, before their veterans services and benefits are fully in place.

Mounds of papers work necessary to transition into civilian life only aggravate the plight of these vulnerable people. Many are left beset by stress, “couch-surfing” with friends or in danger of losing a home because they can’t pay their mortgage.

Military ombudsman Gary Walbourne shed some much-needed light on their situation in a withering report this past week that shows how current systems are failing the ill and injured. He found that “far too many” fail to have a successful transition to civilian life.

The reforms Walbourne recommends should be implemented quickly, including creation of a special “concierge service” to help steer soldiers released on medical grounds through the tangled thickets of federal bureaucracy.

“The complexity of the programs and processes is staggering for members (of the military) who are well, let alone ill or injured members — some of whom may be suffering from an operational stress injury,” he wrote. The transition process “is simply too difficult for some members to navigate and they unfortunately fall through the cracks.”

About 5,500 members of the Canadian Armed Forces transfer to civilian life each year, with about 1,500 released as a result of sickness or injury. The way they’re treated has been a major source of complaints, said Walbourne.

“We hear the horror stories,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press. Often “it’s because they’re let go from one organization and haven’t been accepted into another.”

Many soldiers leaving the military slip into a bureaucratic void: they’ve been released by the defence department but they aren’t yet receiving veteran’s benefits. Months can pass before they obtain services to which they are entitled.

One of Walbourne’s key recommendations calls for the armed forces to avoid releasing members on medical grounds until their access to benefits and programs is fully in place. He calls this a “game-changer” for those receiving a medical release.

“The security and peace of mind that comes from knowing you will remain on the Canadian Armed Forces payroll until all the services and benefits are in place will significantly reduce unnecessary stress,” Walbourne wrote, “thereby allowing members to focus on getting well and moving forward with their lives.”

This shouldn’t pose too great a financial burden, considering the $22.27 billion combined annual budget of the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs, he wrote. Walbourne estimated the cost of hiring or contracting for 60 new staff, to provide the so-called concierge service, at about $4.73 million. And that’s also a manageable amount.

He noted that departing the military, even under the best of circumstances, isn’t like leaving any other job.

“It’s a transition from one way of life to another. There is really no equivalent profession to that of military service. Members have a proud sense of identity,” Walbourne wrote, adding that an unsettling loss of identity can occur once a person stops wearing the uniform.

All this underlines why it’s important for the federal government to pay more attention to the difficulties experienced by military people, especially the ill and injured, when they leave the forces.

Those who have voluntarily put their lives on the line to protect this country deserve a solid and reliable bridge from military service to civilian life.


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Minister Hehr reaffirms Government of Canada's commitment to supporting medically releasing members of the Canadian Armed Forces

Post by Guest on Wed 28 Sep 2016, 18:24

Minister Hehr reaffirms Government of Canada's commitment to supporting medically releasing members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Sept. 27, 2016

The Honourable Kent Hehr, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, today issued the following statement:

"The Prime Minister gave us a clear mandate to serve Canadian Armed Forces members, Veterans and their families. I can tell you in no uncertain terms that I believe in my responsibility as Canada's Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence.

"On behalf of all Canadians, I will make sure their service to Canada is recognized and honoured, and provide new career opportunities, make it easier for Veterans to access services—including mental health services—and do more to support the families of Canada's Veterans.

"This means the gap between National Defence and Veterans Affairs must be closed, and I am working with my colleague, the Minister of National Defence, to reduce complexity, overhaul service delivery, and strengthen partnerships between Veterans Affairs and National Defence.

"The Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada are committed to honouring those who have selflessly served this country. We will do so by continuing to take substantial steps to finding solutions that will improve the health, well-being and financial security of Canadian Veterans and their families.

"Considerable work has been completed to streamline and simplify the transition from service in the Canadian Armed Forces. For example, Enhanced Transition Services is about Veterans Affairs Canada engaging earlier with releasing Canadian Armed Forces members and their families, as early intervention is one of the critical components of a successful transition. This joint VAC/CAF initiative has been launched at all 24 integrated personnel support centres, and it has:contributed to increased awareness among Canadian Armed Forces case managers about the importance of more coordinated pre-release early applications for Veterans Affairs Canada benefits;
allowed Veterans Affairs Canada case managers to engage earlier with releasing Canadian Armed Forces members; and,
led to more efforts to streamline the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces release process that will further facilitate Veteran Affairs Canada's early involvement in the transition process.

"We recognize that there is more to be done. We are working diligently with the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence to fulfill our common core goal of a Seamless Transition. Together, the Department of National Defence, Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada are continuing to address issues of mutual interest and concern.

"We are working to further improve the current service delivery model to provide a standard approach that will eliminate barriers to a successful transition for all releasing members.

"I look forward to discussing the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman's recommendations with my colleagues, stakeholders and other Canadians."


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Re: Stop cutting loose ill, injured soldiers too early, ombudsman tells military

Post by pinger on Tue 27 Sep 2016, 19:02

And here's another one...
Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent together with Canadian Forces Ombudsman Gary Walbourne.

  Canada's military ombudsman is calling on the Liberal government to line up veterans benefits and services for every injured soldier before they are given a medical discharge.

In a new report released Tuesday, Gary Walbourne argues that the current system — which attempts to build a bridge between National Defence and Veterans Affairs administration — is broken.

Getting all of the paperwork set up before a soldier hits the civilian street is, in the ombudsman's estimation, a common-sense idea. But Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan seemed cool to the notion when questioned by reporters Tuesday.

Soldiers heading into the civilian world face a dizzying, multi-layered bureaucracy that is slow to deliver benefits, and, in some cases, has denied them compensation for the injuries that have ended their careers in uniform.    

"The transition process is unnecessarily complex and difficult to navigate — especially for those who are ill or injured," said Walbourne's report, an advance copy of which was obtained by CBC News.

Guy Parent and Gary Walbourne
Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent, right, and Canadian Forces Ombudsman Gary Walbourne appeared at a joint press conference in August 2014. Both of them have been looking in to the treatment of ill and injured Canadian Forces members. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

What makes it worse and even more frustrating, he says, is that some soldiers are making the move while suffering from physical or mental wounds.  

'I've talked to members who are couch-surfing and don't know where they're going to spend the night. Those are pretty heart-wrenching stories we can avoid.'
- Gary Walbourne, Canadian Forces Ombudsman
"The current process requires members to re-tell their stories to many different people in three distinct organizations — thereby taking away from the energy required for medically releasing members to get well and move forward with their new lives outside of the Canadian Armed Forces."

But Sajjan, in a written response, says Veteran Affairs is "well-established and has the resources to fulfil this task" and that improvements are already underway.

He says he doesn't want to make any changes in a "knee-jerk" or "piecemeal fashion."

Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr says he's been working with National Defence to reduce complexity and overhaul service delivery.

"This means harmonized services, clear guidance, timely access to benefits and services, and co-ordinated case management between both departments during transition," Hehr said in a statement.

Benefits delayed

The wounded have three years to recover from their injuries and return to normal duty under the existing system. If they are unable to do so, the Department of National Defence begins the release process, which could take additional time, possibly up to several months.

But ex-soldiers are prohibited in some cases from applying for veterans benefits until they are out of uniform — a delay that several government watchdogs, including Walbourne, have noted can tack on another six months or more.

Almost 53 per cent of the 2,000 complaints investigated annually by the Canadian Forces ombudsman involve so-called "end of career issues," Walbourne said in an interview with CBC News.

He has investigated cases of soldiers without any money shuttling between friends until their benefits come through. Others have been in danger of losing their homes because they can't pay their mortgage.

"We need to ensure that the financial plans are in place so the member has continuity," said Walbourne, who, prior to being the military's watchdog, served as the deputy veterans ombudsman. "At the end of the day, you have to put bread on the table. I've talked to members who are couch-surfing and don't know where they're going to spend the night. Those are pretty heart-wrenching stories we can avoid."

The report also recommends the defence department follow the lead of the U.S. and Australia and establish a so-called concierge service, which would guide ex-soldiers out the door.

Walbourne also insists on the creation of a secure web portal, bringing together all of the benefits information for the military, Veterans Affairs and the Service Income Security Insurance Plan programs.

It would be a one-stop resource guide, he says.

Liberals mulling over ideas

Sajjan says "there is great merit in the idea of a concierge service" and National Defence is actively exploring the idea with Veteran Affairs.

Walbourne has made the issue of transition a key priority.

Two weeks ago, he released a report that insisted National Defence — not Veterans Affairs — should be the one to define whether a soldier's injury took place in the line of duty.

Walbourne was, in that separate analysis, addressing one of the biggest grievances related to the wait time for benefits. Acting on it would also eliminate an entire bureaucratic wing at Veterans Affairs.

A number of experts who've testified before various House of Commons committees in the last few years have said the key to tackling a number of social ills faced by ex-soldiers — from suicides to homelessness — is to ensure that their transition from military to civilian life goes smoothly.

If the government adopts the recommendations in both of his reports, it would potentially cut his caseload in half.

"Wouldn't that be wonderful," he said. "They're logical. It's hard to argue with logic."
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Re: Stop cutting loose ill, injured soldiers too early, ombudsman tells military

Post by 6608 on Tue 27 Sep 2016, 10:06

Here's another similar article from the globe.....

Watchdog urges reform to financial-support access for discharged soldiers

OTTAWA — Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Sep. 27, 2016 5:00AM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Sep. 27, 2016 9:22AM EDT

The man responsible for ensuring that members of Canada’s military are treated fairly is proposing significant changes to the way soldiers, sailors and aviators are released into civilian life – measures that could bridge the divide between National Defence and Veterans Affairs.

Gary Walbourne, the Defence Ombudsman, will release a new report Tuesday that says no member of the Canadian Armed Forces should be given a medical discharge before all of the member’s post-military financial supports are in place.

Mr. Walbourne’s prescription is aimed at solving a problem that has been recognized by successive federal governments. When service-related injuries render military personnel unfit for deployment, it can be months before they start to receive the money that will replace their lost salaries.

“What I am asking the Canadian Armed Forces to do is not to release any member medically until all benefits and services from all sources have been put into place,” Mr. Walbourne said in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail. “Will it put some pressure on the system? Probably. But it will also start to force some performance.”

Mr. Walbourne wants the Defence department to maintain its members on its payroll until all of the pension plan documents have been signed and the first cheque is set to be mailed. He also wants to ensure that no injured soldier is cut loose before the full suite of benefits offered under the New Veterans Charter, including the Permanent Impairment Allowance, the Earnings Loss Benefit, and educational assistance have been processed.

The mandate letter given to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Mr. Sajjan must work closely with Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr to ensure “a seamless transition” for Canadian Forces members to the programs and services of Veterans Affairs.

One of the obstacles, Mr. Walbourne said, is that even though Defence knows how and where an injury occurred, has control of a soldier’s health files and treats soldiers medically until the day they take off their uniform for the final time, it is the Veterans Affairs Department that decides whether an injury is service-related. That can take up to 16 weeks – the service standard at Veterans Affairs – and, until it is settled, veterans do not know what level of financial support they will receive, or whether they will receive anything at all.

In his report, Mr. Walbourne reiterates a proposal he made last May to move the responsibility for determining attribution of service from Veterans Affairs to Defence. It is a shift that he says will cut the waiting time for a decision in half.

Mr. Sajjan did not receive that suggestion with much enthusiasm.

In a letter to the ombudsman, he said the Canadian Armed Forces “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.”

But Mr. Walbourse argues that it is just a matter of changing some bureaucratic conventions. If no policy is in place to allow the Defence department to determine whether an injury is service-related, he said, then create one.

The ombudsman also argues in favour of a “concierge service,” which is in place in the United States. It gives every veteran a single point of contact to deal with every issue – instead of being shuffled between Veterans Affairs, Defence and representatives of the government’s insurance plan.

“What we’re proposing are some opportunities for the government to really take a process that is complex and convoluted and put some sensibility to it, some common sense to make it more streamlined and much more easy,” Mr. Walbourne said. “The government has said that veterans are important, certainly members are important, and it’s time to make a fundamental shift.”

The Ombudsman's report

Simplifying the Service Delivery Model for Medically Releasing Members of the Canadian Armed Forces

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Number of posts : 308
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Stop cutting loose ill, injured soldiers too early, ombudsman tells military

Post by Guest on Tue 27 Sep 2016, 06:02

Stop cutting loose ill, injured soldiers too early, ombudsman tells military.

September 27, 2016

OTTAWA -- Canada's military ombudsman is taking aim at the armed forces for cutting loose ill and injured service members before they know what services and benefits the soldiers are getting from the Veterans Affairs Department.
In a landmark report released Tuesday, ombudsman Gary Walbourne says the military should instead keep those troops within the fold until their supports are secure to make sure they aren't "slipping through the cracks."
It's just one of a number of changes that Walbourne says would transform the much-maligned transition system that ill and injured military personnel must pass through on their way back into civilian life.

"Everything we hear about transition, these people slipping through cracks, it's because they're let go from one organization and haven't been accepted into another," Walbourne said in an interview in advance of the report's release.
Ill and injured military personnel have long expressed anger and frustration over what they say is an onerous, lengthy and overly bureaucratic process for accessing services and benefits when they are made to leave the Forces.
Complicating matters is the fact many end up being forced out of the military before their services and benefits are set up with Veterans Affairs. That causes huge stress on service personnel who may already be struggling with physical and mental injuries, said Walbourne.
"We hear the horror stories of those who find themselves couch surfing or in a basement or whatever might happen," he said. "But if a person has been retained by the military while they're going through this transition, life becomes much easier."
Approximately 1,800 service members are released for medical reasons each year.
Military personnel aren't automatically kicked out when they become too ill or injured to meet what's called the universality of service principle, which basically requires that a service member be fit enough to fight if needed.
There are services set up to determine whether they can recover and, if not, various measures are available to help ease their departure from the military.
But too many end up out on the streets before their files have been properly set up at Veterans Affairs, which can take four months or longer, said Walbourne.

The ombudsman is also calling for the creation of a concierge service in which ill and injured service members would have someone guide them through the complicated process of transitioning from military to civilian life.
Similar services have already been established in the United Kingdom and the United States.
"I think having someone they know who is in uniform with them and understands the plight they're going through is going to make their life much, much easier."
Tuesday's report builds on the ombudsman's call earlier this month for the Canadian Armed Forces to determine whether a person's injury or illness was caused or aggravated by their military service. That determination would be used by Veterans Affairs to determine benefits or services.
Currently, the military does not make such a determination, leaving it up to the individual member to prove it themselves. Walbourne said that adds weeks and months to the service delay -- to say nothing of the stress -- for a member already struggling with an injury or illness.
Such a change, along with the military's continued retention of military personnel, would represent a dramatic and badly needed change to the transition system, he added.
"We've been talking about this for years and years and we know the system needs adjustment and change," Walbourne said.
"Why not fundamentally change the system? I think we're at a point where cutting the edges is just making it smaller, it's not making it any better."
While Walbourne's recommendations deal only with the Canadian Armed Forces, he and veterans ombudsman Guy Parent have been conducting a joint investigation into the transition system, which has been the subject of thousands of complaints over the years.

The Liberal government has said it also wants to ease the transition for sick and wounded personnel, which is why Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr was also appointed associate defence minister: to help 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.


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Re: Stop cutting loose ill, injured soldiers too early, ombudsman tells military

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