General takes new approach on the transition to civilian life

April 19, 2017 by Stephen J. Thorne

Chief of the defence staff, General Jonathan Vance addressed the Senate subcommittee on Veterans Affairs in April.
The chief of the defence staff has a theory: happy retirees make for more and better recruits.

Appearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, General Jonathan Vance said recruitment, training and treatment of Canadian Armed Forces personnel is “at a turning point.” It has to be.

“I think it’s a truism that if you leave well, content, satisfied and looking back on your career,” he said, “then you will provide more of a positive reinforcement to those who may wish to join.

“If people don’t think that they’re being treated well, that we are not looking after them, then they won’t come and work for us and they won’t willingly risk their lives. If we cannot attract and retain the talent we need, then we won’t have success on operations. It’s that simple.”

Treating military retirees right is also the right thing to do, he added.

“If our policies aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing, which is to properly support and administer those people who defend our country, then the policies need to change and we’re going to change them.”

Canada has faced plenty of criticism over how it treats its veterans. Aside from the issues of long-term compensation for the ill and injured, retiring military members have been facing crippling delays in the transition between their military paycheques and their pensions.

This came to a head with the story of retired air force sergeant Tricia Beauchamp, a two-time cancer survivor and single mother who was evicted from her home while she was fighting with bureaucrats for her military severance, pensions and benefits.

Her case highlighted a military pension backlog that CBC reported peaked at some 13,000 files last year and prompted a flood of complaints.

Vance told the Conference of Defence Associations’ annual symposium in February that he planned to change the way military careers are managed and concluded. Now he appears to be putting meat on the bones of that promise.

“When I hear stories from my people about how they’ve gone for weeks or even months without the pension they’ve earned through their service, well, senators, disappointed doesn’t even come close to describing how I feel,” he said.

“DND, the Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs are working on converging these two systems. We have direction and intent from both of our ministers to close the seams and that’s what we will do.”

Promises, promises. Forgive jaded veterans and prospective retirees if they claim to have heard it all before. But there are a couple of reasons why, this time, the promises to improve their collective lot might be different.

Between his Operation Honour initiative aimed at eliminating sexual harassment, and efforts to change the way the CAF recruits and treats personnel, Vance has made revamping military human resources his primary mission, the one area in which he can leave a legacy.

He wasn’t given much of an option. The federal government has deferred spending on military equipment, ensuring that any significant changes in defence capability are years away, well beyond his reach.

With the traditional three-year window of his tenure already more than half closed, Vance has limited time to achieve the impact he wants.

Veterans’ rights have received a lot of lip service over the past century—more, some argue, than concrete action. Without a constant presence in the public spotlight, it is relatively easy for successive governments to sweep veterans’ issues under the rug or defer them to another day. Governments change; news comes and goes; priorities ebb and flow; policies shift.

But recruitment—fundamental to a viable military—is barely keeping pace with attrition, and women aren’t enlisting in the numbers anticipated. And those may just be the incentives needed to turn Vance’s proposals into reality.

One can argue the pros and cons of this aircraft over that aircraft, the need for ships now or later, the nuts and bolts of military function. But the recruitment of rank and file is the most basic element of national defence, security and sovereignty, and not so easy for governments to defer or ignore.

In March, the federal government budgeted $624 million more for veterans’ programs over the next five years, most of it aimed at easing outgoing soldiers’ transitions to civilian life.

Vance told the senators he is now “professionalizing” the system by which members are retired, closing gaps between responsible departments and agencies, and streamlining the process.

He is phasing out the Joint Personnel Support Unit, which now performs many discharge functions after it was created during the Afghanistan war to address the needs of ill and injured soldiers. And he is reviving the Forces’ defunct personnel administration branch.

“From the moment one of my service members is ready to retire or must medically retire, this [new] unit will have them well in hand,” said the general. “And if an individual member’s situation doesn’t fit the policy, then we’ll work with that member and we’ll customize the solution to that individual.

“This support will vastly improve what our joint personnel support unit provides to our ill, injured and wounded members now, but it will do the same for all retiring members.”

Vance has a little more than a year left to make lasting change. Veterans will be happy or not with his legacy. Governments will measure it by the numbers.

  • Ned

    I was a medic. If you are wounded they throw you away. That hasn’t changed. If they are making Vance try and polish that turd obviously that news is reaching the kids who want to join. Good. If you get in don’t risk your life or health. The agreement of unlimited liability has been broken by the government. They have no intention of helping you if you are injured in my experience.

  • Jerry Peddle

    When I was medically released I knew that there would be around a 4 month delay before the pension kicked in so I had cash saved to get me through that period. However, an administrative error that had been missed during the yearly review for 16 years was discovered and I was released earlier than anticipated so was shy two pay checks. I ended up having to get a loan just to pay the bills. Hope this solves the problems. At least we should see less injured military personnel in the future as with our lack of spending on much needed equipment, we will not be invited to join future military operations by our allies. T25 out.

  • Mart Blanchard

    I have been released one year now and dismantling the JPSU couldn’t be a better decision made by the CDS. It was just another Gap in the process that had to be removed. The process for getting out should and will go a lot more efficient now that we remove one of the problems. Making another unit to control this transition is something that I’m not sure will work, but let’s see what comes out of it. Placing the UMS back into the units with at lease a PA would strengthen the cohesion and give the management/supervisors a idea what is going on with their subordinates. As we all know that mental illness is the leading factor for medical releases, by allowing and training our leadership on the facts will help control Mental illness within a unit. One big issue I saw with mentally ill and physical injuries when going to the JPSU is they where overloaded with work that they all did not conprehen for the lack of training provided. More competent medical staff is required to handle the turn around of release with coming in personnel. There are Nurse Practionors controlling hundreds, even thousand of patiences. If someone is taking control of these medical files, at this high amounts of patience, things are being missed. Last thing, we need to integrate all of the administration intra unit. Stop using to personnel to clear out hundreds of people and train with the unit. Being sent all over the place is causing burden for personnel transitioning out and for the people clearing them out.

  • David King

    It is encouraging to see that General Vance is trying to improve the system for all releasing members, and not just those leaving for medical reasons.

    I find it ironic however, to be reading about this in Legion Magazine, given that the Royal Canadian Legion’s then president, Mary-Ann Burdett fully supported the New Veteran’s Charter when she appeared before the Senate Committee in 2005. Perhaps many RCL members are unaware that the RCL’s input helped sway the government in removing life-long pensions for ill and injured military members.

    I’m still puzzled how a civilian service club was given a say in pensions for military members at all. I know individual legions do useful community work, and that there are efforts to assist homeless veterans. I can’t help but wonder though, that if the life-long pensions had not been removed with the legion’s support, that perhaps there would be less homeless vets than there are with the lump-sum payment.

  • Ole Curmudgeon

    My advice to young folks now is that if you are bound and determined to join, go Air Force as opposed to Army. Less likelihood of being maimed for life (?)

  • Mel Pittman

    Finally; one of our 4 star Generals has stepped up to the plate and taken the bull by the horns and called a spade a spade. Well done, General Vance, your thoughts on how the majority of retirees over this past twenty or more years have been thinking is indeed a truism and yes; I am sure it has had a negative effect on recruitment. Fair treatment of our Veterans must be uppermost in the minds of our senior military officials and politicians alike, which has been just the opposite to-date. Believe me, there are many more disgruntled Armed Forces Veterans out there then there are those who are happy with their lot in retirement. Such foresight and action by those in authority is indeed encouraging.

  • Sherry Duplessis

    I joined at a time when reservists had no pension, had nothing. When they left that was it, a certificate in the mail. I was Admin ONLY because “girls” were not allowed to be Infantry, although I did everything the guys did at my Regiment, did the physical training exercises, jumping out of moving trucks with full ruck and if I twinged my leg/knee/back, I sucked it up and walked it off. It was VERY rare any of us went to see a Doc, unless a bone was sticking out. So of course no medical reports etc because I could not use the Infantry Medical Operations Centre, although I had enough letters and proof that I did do those things. There is no way in you-know-where that I can or will get help from Vet affairs. I was Admin and I gather my exercises consisted of not running around with an FN assault rifle. I must have run around with a typewriter! When I left there was no depart with dignity, no one to sit with you and go over any paperwork or show you what you could do to take care of yourself in later years, just a “goodbye”! As my Dad and Mom, who also served, would say, I am S___ out of luck!

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