The Canadian Forces says it will follow the recommendations of its ombudsman, who issued a report Tuesday saying the Canadian Rangers are not getting the health care and support they are entitled to.

National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman Gary Walbourne said in his report that the Canadian Rangers are a sub-component of the military Reserve Force, so they should be receiving the same health-care benefits as those doing similar work, but that isn't happening.

The Rangers are called Canada's "eyes and ears" in northern Canada. They conduct patrols from their communities and alert the Canadian Forces to any unusual activity. Generally, Rangers work as part-time volunteers in their home communities, and sometimes they take part in search and rescue operations.

Their health care is covered by provincial and territorial health-care systems. The military provides resources for any personnel who experience service-related injuries.

But after reviewing interviews with Rangers, Walbourne concluded that most Rangers were not aware of what they were entitled to or how they can access care.

Of those surveyed, 89 per cent of individuals, who were injured on duty, did not submit a claim for Veteran Affairs benefits.

Canadian Rangers in Iqaluit, royal visit

Canadian Rangers participated in the welcoming ceremony for Prince Charles and Camilla during their visit to Iqaluit in summer 2017. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

Barriers to access

Walbourne says the remote locations in which most Canadian Rangers operate are a major barrier to accessing benefits. Many Rangers have to be flown to a larger centre for health care, removing them from their support network.

Mental health was flagged as a particular concern because southern specialists might not be attuned to the realities of remote life or the cultural milieu in which most Rangers live.

There are approximately 5,000 current Rangers, and among them they speak 26 different languages and dialects, many of which are Indigenous.

The report includes four recommendations for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces to improve access to and understanding of the health benefits available to the Rangers.

They are:

  • Editing the policy framework for reservists to clarify the language, especially regarding what reservists are entitled to in terms of health care. This should be done no later than spring 2019.

  • Ensuring that illnesses and injuries are properly reported.

  • Identifying and implementing a health-care delivery model that addresses the barriers to care and provides care adapted to the Rangers' social and cultural needs.  

  • Improving the Rangers' awareness of available benefits and how to access them by fall 2018. This should be done by collecting the relevant information and distributing in the appropriate languages via training and other formats.

In a statement, the chief of staff of the Army Reserve said the Army is already working on the recommendations with the Canadian Forces' health services and with provincial and territorial health-care agencies.

"The health and wellness of our members are of utmost importance, it is with this in mind that we have cooperated with the Ombudsman office since the beginning of the investigation," Brig.-Gen. Rob Roy MacKenzie said in the statement.

The Forces started its own review in 2015 and will incorporate these recommendations into its review.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says he has tasked the military with finding "made in the North" solutions.

Walbourne says he is glad to see the recommendations were accepted and says his office will continue to monitor the follow-through.