Canadian Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne appears at a Senate veterans affairs committee in Ottawa on May 4, 2016. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)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.
"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."
— Ombudsman Gary Walbourne
Calls for concierge service
Urges military to make decisions on injuries
'Cutting the edges is just making it smaller'"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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