Veterans Ombudsman calls for Overhaul of Transition Process

Ottawa, ON - April 4, 2017

(Abridged Remarks to the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, March 29, 2017)

Wholesale change is needed to make the transition process from military to civilian life meet the needs of our Veterans and their families. The time for tweaking is over; it’s time for reengineering. 

Today, there are over 10,000 releases per year from the Regular and Reserve Force, of which there are approximately 1,600 medical releases yearly.  That’s a lot of people transitioning.

Transition is often a confusing and frustrating experience for Veterans and their families. There are, for example, multiple players from separate organizations – in fact, at least 15 – involved in the transition process. Each has its own accountability framework, mandate and processes.  The result? Duplication of effort, gaps and inconsistencies across groups and geographic regions. 

I’ve been working with Veterans who successfully transitioned to determine what contributed to their success. Above all, they tell me, it is a sense of purpose.

One Veteran said “I joined the army at age 19.  Before that, I was in high school.  I was never really a civilian adult.  I don’t feel that I am transitioning ‘back’ to civilian life, but becoming a civilian for the first time.”  That’s a huge jump to make and it takes a sense of purpose to do it.

General Vance, the Chief of Defence Staff, has stated that the transition process needs to be professionalized, like the recruiting process. It has:  

  • Recruiting centers and detachments located across the country.
  • A single online portal for both Regular and Reserve Force members that is easy to use and comprehensive.
  • A highly structured, clearly sequenced and personalized process.
  • A single point of contact (online or face-to-face).  Someone who answers your questions, arranges your interviews, gives you a sequenced list of steps to follow and provides help at any-time.
  • An interview and testing to determine strengths and interests, and ultimately, a career path – individualized for each member.

Once recruited, you sign a contract which clearly defines your terms of service and you are not enrolled until all the approvals are in place. You receive an ID card that you carry on your person your entire career – it’s your new identity. You are excited about what the future holds. And, as part of this onboarding process, you develop social networks that remain in place during and after your career. This network provides support, encouragement and comradery. 

From the member’s perspective, at the end of the recruitment process, you truly feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself, and that you have a future.  This is because the recruitment process transforms a civilian into a Canadian Armed Forces member and gives them a sense of purpose.  

I envision a transition process for all releasing Canadian Armed Forces members, Regular and Reserve, which would have similar elements to the recruiting process, such as:

  • Release centres across the country, accessible through a single on-line portal, and under one single authority;
  • All benefits in place at release;
  • A single point of contact assigned to both Regular and Reserve Force members – a Navigator – who would:  
    • help fill out forms and submit a single application for benefits;
    • help plan the member‘s release and set up required appointments;
    • provide advice in relation to possible third-party organizations that may offer support; and
    • follow-up after release at pre-determined intervals to ensure evolving needs are met;
  • Dedicated support to help injured members back to work.  If they can’t return to work and their case is too complex, the Integrated Personnel Support Centre would help coordinate their release in conjunction with the release centres;
  • There would be only one program for vocational rehabilitation and long term disability to reduce complexity and confusion;
  • A professional counsellor to help determine the education, training or employment needs of the member, as well as assisting them find their new purpose in life, tailored to their attributes and desires; and
  • A Veterans ID Card issued to every releasing member that not only recognizes their service, but also allows Veterans Affairs Canada to proactively follow-up with them after release.

The system needs an overhaul. We need to support our Veterans and their families with their transition when and where they need it. It is what they deserve, and it is a question of national security.

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Anonymous said:

Thank you - you get it.

April 5, 2017 8:49 AM

Ken benoit said:

This is very true: One Veteran said “I joined the army at age 19. Before that, I was in high school. I was never really a civilian adult. I don’t feel that I am transitioning ‘back’ to civilian life, but becoming a civilian for the first time.” That’s a huge jump to make and it takes a sense of purpose to do it. I fully support your vision of a proper transition process.

April 4, 2017 9:55 PM

Ken Benoit said:

A good point was raised here. Many retiring personnel are not returning to civilian life but going to civilian life for the first time! I fully support your vision of a proper transition process.

April 4, 2017 9:52 PM

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