Response from the Minister of National Defence regarding the 2016 report: Determination of Attribution to Service

2 Aug 2016

Mr. Gary Walbourne
Ombudsman
Office of the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces
100 Metcalfe Street, 12th Floor
Ottawa ON K1P 5M1

 

Dear Mr. Walbourne:

Thank you for your letter of May 18, 2016, in which you provided a positional paper on the “Determination of Attribution to Service” for medically-released members.

I recognize and appreciate your suggestion that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) should be determining attribution to service for CAF members who have developed an illness or sustained injury during their military career in order to prevent delays in medically releasing members receiving Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) benefits.

Transition-related reviews have highlighted that Veterans are experiencing delays in three key ways: having decisions made with regard to disability awards and other VAC benefits, delays on behalf of VAC in obtaining a medical file from the CAF, or a delay in VAC as they make the decision.

I fully agree with you on several points. CAF members who are releasing should not be disadvantages. The entry point to accessing disability awards and benefits should be expeditious and simple. The administration of disability awards and benefits should be efficient and cost-effective.

To date, there has been significant progress made in early engagement with members transitioning for medical reasons through the Enhanced Transition Services initiative. The result of this project is an increased awareness among the CAF Case Managers about the importance of applying early before release for VAC benefits and for VAC Case Managers to engage earlier with releasing members. Additional resources to the CAF Record Disclosure Team have eliminated the backlog in service health records being transferred to VAC, reducing the turnaround time. Measures are underway to increase the embedding of VAC staff within existing DND/CAF processes, which will enable VAC’s early involvement in individual transition, and could achieve the outcome desired.

As you know, the CAF determines causality between military service and an illness or an injury for Reserve Force members for the purpose of the Reserve Force Compensation. It may investigate an illness or an injury and may conduct Summary Investigations or Boards of Inquiry in some circumstances. Nonetheless, the CAF 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.

While there is merit in the suggestion, Department of National Defence and the CAF (DND/CAF) require more time to review the implications. Please know that our commitment to working with VAC to improve the process is steadfast. We have just completed the public consultation portion of the Defence Policy Review (DPR), and bridging the gap between the DND/CAF and VAC is one of the priorities of both the DPR and my mandate letter from the Prime Minister. We are currently looking at a variety of way in which we can better service members through the transition process in order to expedite and simplify their receipt of benefits. Please be assured that we will keep your office, CAF members, and the Canadian public informed as progress is made.

I thank you again for your continued support of our women and men in uniform and their families.

Yours sincerely,

 

The Hon. Harjit, S. Sajjan, PC, OMM, MSM, CD, MP

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