Cost of relocations weighs on military families

Military families must often relocate in order to do their job but the military ombudsman says the Department of National Defence needs to rethink its policy of moving so many families so many times.

Ombudsman worried by toll relocations take on military personnel, families

Military Ombudsman Pierre Daigle has appealed in the past to decrease the cost of relocation to military staff. (Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press)

Canadian Forces Maj. Marcus Brauer has moved five times over the course of his 20-plus-year military career, and his last relocation to the East Coast from Edmonton was so expensive that he sold off family heirlooms to make ends meet.

The Canadian military has a long-standing practice of relocating many of its members every year to fill vacancies, manage careers and provide training. But these moves can have a cost, both financially and mentally.

"I’m embarrassed not being able to provide [for my children] the way a father should," said Brauer.

In an exclusive interview with CBC Radio's The Current, Brauer said that the moves have forced him to turn to local agencies such as Scouts Canada to help take care of his children. He pinned the cost at around $220,000, and said the relocations have left him with a heavy psychological burden.

And the major is not alone.

'Constant frustration'

According to the country’s military ombudsman for the Department of National Defence, Pierre Daigle, about 16,000 military personnel move in a year. Although Daigle said that all such moves are beyond his control, the ombudsman says that the cost sometimes may be too high.

Daigle said he has visited more than 16 bases and wings across the country and is concerned about the financial losses and distress relocations place on military families.

"This is a recurring constant frustration, dissatisfaction and challenge for a family," said Daigle.

He said the biggest concerns with relocations are that they often come with short notice and a lack of financial support. Military families can be forced to sell their home and move within five days and they are only eligible for a $15,000 reimbursement if they lose money on the sale of their house.

In a statement emailed to CBC News, Defence Minister Peter MacKay's press secretary, Paloma Aguilar,  said the government is aiming to address the issue by reducing the number of relocations in the military by approximately 10 per cent next year.

Aguilar said the Canadian Armed Forces currently supports a home equity assistance program to help "members and their families offset any potential financial losses incurred during their selling of homes as a result of postings."

According to government statistics, less than two per cent of personnel have requested assistance through the program, and less than 0.03 per cent of those have been denied in the past six years. 

Military shakeup

Daigle’s comments come at a time when the Canadian military is struggling to deal with pending budget cuts and a massive internal reorganization. Within a few months the entire senior leadership of the military is expected to change.

The country’s deputy top commander, Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson, will retire in the coming months, along with the heads of the army and navy.

The changes of command, to be staggered over the next few months, follow the departure last fall of longtime chief of defence staff, retired general Walt Natynczyk, and the former commander of the air force, retired lieutenant-general André Deschamps.

With files from The Canadian Press