Military ombudsman says members being released without necessary health care in place

Canadian Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne says the Department of National Defence should hold off on releasing service members until after their benefits for civilian life are finalized.

Gary Walbourne suggests Defence Department doesn't react well to critical reports

Canada's military ombudsman Gary Walbourne said some members are being released from the military for health reasons but without civilian benefits in place. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Canadian Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne says the Department of National Defence should hold off on releasing service members until after their benefits for civilian life are finalized.

"We should have all the financial, medical and health benefits and services in place before we release that member," Walbourne said on Information Morning Fredericton Wednesday.

Walbourne is in New Brunswick visiting CFB Gagetown as part of his office's outreach efforts. Although the military has had an ombudsman for 20 years, many people still don't know about the office, he said.

"What we've really been doing over the last couple of years of my mandate is really pushing our presence and trying to get out across the country as much as possible," he said.

Practice versus policy

Walbourne said he's been told by departmental officials that the military now has a practice that service members are not let go until benefits are confirmed and in place, but his office finds people are still slipping through.

National Defence Ombudsman Gary Walbourne is visiting Base Gagetown on an outreach tour, and says he's "an advocate for fairness". 14:07

He wants policies that will ensure the practice is consistent across the country, since calls are still coming into his office about problems.

He cited health and housing as some of the areas departing service members need help sorting out, especially if they're leaving the military because of health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

"We still have issues where the proper connections have not been made, where the application process is very, very difficult and arduous, and it's complicated."

Clashes with department

Walbourne took the Defence Department says the Defence Department treats his office differently when he's critical of it. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Walbourne also criticized the Defence Department over what he considers a lackadaisical response to some of his reports. 

"When I submit that report and get back a response, 'Yeah they have merit, we'll do some further looking,' that tells me that someone is not paying attention," he said.

"When I release a report that is evidence-based it should be given credence. It should be given a fair vetting and I shouldn't be getting back nebulous responses."

Last year, Walbourne complained about what he said were the Defence Department's "insidious" attacks on his office, telling The Canadian Press the ombudsman should report directly to Parliament, not to the department.

Walbourne said his office is treated differently when his reports are critical of Defence.

"When I come out and I'm critical against the department, I'll notice things get a little tighter," he said. "Travel doesn't get approved as quickly as it used to, there'll be a delay in staffing."

Asked for comment, Department of National Defence spokesperson Daniel Le Bouthillier wrote that the department supports the work of the ombudsman's office and said its work has led to "substantial improvements to the institution."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton