OTTAWA (Canadian OH&S News)
In his latest report, the auditor-general has lambasted the federal government for its treatment and support of ill and injured soldiers and veterans trading in their military uniform for average workaday clothes.
Auditor-General of Canada Michael Ferguson released his annual fall report in the House of Commons on Oct. 23, devoting a chapter to the transition of military officers, particularly those who became ill or injured in the line of duty. For them, transitioning back into civilian life can be a process which Ferguson denounced as “often complex, lengthy and challenging.”
The report indicated that from 2006 to 2011, more than 8,000 members of the Canadian Forces had their military careers ended because they suffered an illness or injury. As well, at Veterans Affairs Canada, about 20 per cent of vets identified as being at risk for an unsuccessful transition into civilian life.
Of particular concern are the ways in which the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs help soldiers and vets to access programs and receive benefits that aim to help their transition to civilian life. That includes complex eligibility criteria, copious amounts of paperwork, a lack of clear information on the support available and an overall lengthy process.
“The audit also found that both departments have difficulty meeting their own service standards and requirements for case management. As a result, Forces members and veterans did not always receive services and benefits in a timely manner, or at all,” a statement from the auditor-general’s office reads.
“For example, the Canadian Forces did not provide case management services or case plans for about 25 per cent of members released for a medical reason. Similarly, Veterans Affairs did not have case plans for about 20 per cent of veterans identified as at risk of not successfully returning to civilian life,” the statement continued.
However, the Minister of Veterans Affairs said that recently introduced plans have begun to chip away at the issues raised by the auditor-general.
“I want to reassure Canada’s veterans, the men and women serving in the Canadian Forces, and their families that our government will always be there for them when they need their country’s support. That is why I have already instructed my officials to develop a robust Veterans Transition Action Plan to directly address and go above and beyond the recommendations in the Auditor-General’s report,” said the minister of veterans affairs, Steven Blaney.
Report recommends streamlined and simple process
In an effort to speed up the process for those ex-soldiers who ended their service as the result of a physical or psychological injury on the frontlines, Ferguson’s report made the following recommendations:
— Streamlining their administrative process.
— Simplifying the language which explains support available.
— Maintaining reliable data.
— Improving on their management and expenditure when it comes to handling those transitioning out of their military lives.
Because of the new initiatives put forth by Veterans Affairs, such as the Cutting the Red Tape for Veterans program which seeks to eliminate some of the tedious and repetitive paperwork currently involved in the process, Blaney said that his department, along with the defence ministry, is working towards making embattled vets transition seamlessly to civilian life.
Accepting Ferguson’s recommendations is a good start, but MP Peter Stoffer, the official opposition’s veterans affairs critic, said more needs to be done to protect those ill and injured officers.
“Most of their formative years have been with a uniform on; when that uniform comes off, it’s a traumatic experience, unless of course they have another job to go to right away where they can feel like a productive member of society again. But for those that don’t, it’s quite the transition,” Stoffer contended.
“Those are the ones that transition under normal circumstances. The ones who are forced out because of medical reasons or are released, they have an even greater challenge because their career is not over yet, they’re in their 20s and 30s.”