Gary Walbourne, Military Watchdog, Blasts Pension Wait Times

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OTTAWA — Canada's military ombudsman is being bombarded daily with complaints from retiring soldiers over delays in receiving pension cheques — a problem Gary Walbourne says will only get worse with looming changes to the federal bureaucracy.

The ombudsman's office is tracking a number of complaints from both full-time and part-time members who are waiting weeks, often months to receive payments to which they're entitled to upon retirement.

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A member of the Canadian Armed Forces walks along the rows of grave stones at the National Military Cemetery during Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/CP)

"The frustration level cannot be understated," Walbourne said in a statement posted on the Canadian Forces ombudsman's web site early Friday. 

"In extreme cases, retiring members have been left unable to pay their mortgages or rent while awaiting their pensions. Additionally, members find themselves out of pocket for medical expenses while awaiting coverage to be activated as a CAF pension recipient."

The statement cited one case where a retiring soldier had to pay $12,000 out of pocket while awaiting his pension and related family medical coverage to begin.

"In extreme cases, retiring members have been left unable to pay their mortgages or rent while awaiting their pensions."

The military watchdog has tracked the issue since 2007, logging 1,300 complaints on pensions and severance pay delays during that time, and is currently receiving two new cases each day.

In 2011, the auditor general examined the plight of reservists specifically and a found significant backlog in the handling of retirement pensions for part-time soldiers — something the former Conservative government promised to fix.

"However, the backlog and chronic, excessive delays persist," said Walbourne's statement, which noted the official wait time for reservists ranges between four and 36 weeks. Regular force member reportedly have anywhere between three to 14 weeks.

But Walborne says cases under review in his office suggest those figures may be on the low side because investigators are coming across much longer delays.

And it can only get worse with the planned merger of National Defence’s Pension Services branch with Public Services and Procurement Canada — a move that's slated to begin this month with a targeted completion of this July.

Staff will be attending training from April to June, in anticipation of the merger, said Walbourne.

"The will obviously limit to ability of staff to tackle the existing backlog between now and the merger in July," he said.

Almost three years ago, Walbourne's predecessor — Pierre Daigle — complained some reservists were waiting up to a year before receiving their severance pay from the military.

A defence spokeswoman, at the time, challenged the assessment and said most cheques were cut within 18 weeks, but noted the government was set to hire extra staff — on both a permanent and temporary basis.

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