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Deployments Take Toll On Spouses And Children, Ombudsman Reports

Military families need more help to cope with the challenging demands and disruptions placed on them by frequent moves, long separations and a family member regularly exposed to great risk, says the military ombudsman.

Military families need more help to cope with the challenging demands and disruptions placed on them by frequent moves, long separations and a family member regularly exposed to great risk, says the military ombudsman. 

In a report titled On The Homefront: Assessing The Well-Being Of Canada’s Military Families In The New Millennium, Pierre Daigle notes military life takes a toll on the family, and urges the government to find ways to minimize family stress. The report makes 18 recommendations, including reviewing the Military Family Services Program.

The Royal Canadian Legion supports such a review. Although the Military Family Services Program has been tweaked over time, it has not evolved, despite a review in 2009 that identified areas for improvement. “We ask that the CAF commit now to the review and take the necessary action to implement the remaining initiatives first identified in 2009,” said Dominion President Gordon Moore.

The report offers a map for the military in its ongoing effort to improve family support, Chief of Military Personnel Major-General David Millar said at a news conference held with Daigle. The Military Family Services section is already working on the recommendations he said. “We are not standing still.”

In a year-long investigation, Daigle found military families face “relentless upheaval.” They move three times more often than civilian families, and have little influence over where and when they’re going or how long they’ll be there. Policy governing moves is complex, filled with bureaucratic terminology that is not user-friendly to families.

Recommendations addressing this issue call for modernizing relocation policies and procedures with an eye to alleviating challenges surrounding relocation by moving families less often and handling the moves better.

Deployment disrupts family relationships, sometimes permanently, notes the report. It can cause behavioural, emotional and disciplinary problems in some children. Children of deployed members have double the rate of ailments compared to civilian children, increased stress and sleeping problems. And these affect academic performance. Families report it can take a year to get over a deployment—and they’re barely back on an even keel before the next deployment cycle begins.

Unemployment and underemployment is common among non-serving spouses and partners and is a major reason serving personnel leave the Forces, and is “a leading barrier to stable, nurturing family environments,” says the report. Spouses often find no professional opportunities in small communities, or are required to recertify in a new province. Some decide the low wages of jobs available to them do not justify the cost of child care. Many non-serving partners set aside their careers in order to give the family more stability. Non-serving spouses are frustrated that they must make the lion’s share of professional compromises required to raise a family.

The report recommends development of a national employment strategy to allow non-serving partners to be continuously employed and to maintain long-standing careers.

Frequent moves also make it difficult for military families to access health care. Health care is not provided to military families by the military, but by the provinces in which they live. When military families move, they must find new family doctors and go to the bottom of waiting lists. They end up “bouncing from one waiting list to the next, rarely making it to the top,” says the report. It recommends the Forces find a way to provide continuity in health care for military families, perhaps through agreements with networks of civilian clinics across the country.

Military families are worried about the long-term impact of military life, particularly deployments, on their children. Some families feel “their children are paying a price for their parent’s service to the nation,” the report says. At school, military children feel isolated. Military children sometimes fall back a year when changing school systems, negatively affecting their self-esteem, behaviour, ability to adapt. Children’s schooling is also consistently identified as a chief reason members leave the military.

Recommendations include minimizing postings for members with children entering the last year of high school; liberalizing the Education Allowance; expanding the Military Family Resource Centres’ role in child care and education about deployment; increasing research on military life and children; and sensitizing schools to the realities of military life.

The report also recommends looking for innovative solutions involving matters in jurisdiction of provinces and territories, such as finding a way to transfer positions on provincial medical wait lists and addressing disparities in school programs.

Military families have difficulty accessing suitable and affordable housing, says the report. The military has 12,248 housing units in 30 locations across Canada, mostly built between 1948 and 1960. Although 29 per cent of them are considered in poor condition, 87.9 per cent were occupied. About 85 per cent of military families do not live on bases or wings. Millar said the military is now studying the housing problem.

Frequent postings mean frequent house sales for military homeowners, and although there is a program to provide financial assistance, the policy is vague and the criteria too onerous. For instance, says the report, although families can be reimbursed for losses up to 80 per cent of the difference between purchase and sale price, the $15,000 maximum has not been raised since 1998, while real estate values have tripled. The policy says greater losses could be covered in a “depressed market” but there are currently no Canadian markets that meet its criteria. “Many families discover too late that this benefit is subject to stringent conditions and thus applied on an exceptional basis only,” says the report. “This creates a false expectation…that this program protects them in the event of having to sell at a loss.” The report suggests harmonizing policies and programs for homeowners; giving 90 days notice of re-posting, up from 60; and increasing options for buying and selling homes.

The Legion supports modernizing of relocation policies, adding The Home Equity Assistance Program requires immediate review. “Our military members should not be out of pocket when selling their principal residence on a move due to service requirements,” said a press release.

The report also recommends alleviating financial hardship for families by increasing certain allowances and offering financial education at various points along the career path.


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