During a special sitting of Parliament to examine the budget of the Department of National Defence, I questioned the Defence Minister regarding “universality of service” and the challenge medically released soldiers have when they exit the military.
In recent discussions with soldiers, two concerns have been relayed to me. One is the ‘universality of service’ requirement for every member of the armed forces to be ‘deployable.’ The second issue is the length of time from when a soldier makes the decision to leave the military, to when the bureaucratic process is complete. This includes having to demonstrate to a Veterans Affairs doctor what a DND doctor has determined to be the reasons for issuing a medical release.
Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, Conservative): Mr. Chair, how does the minister propose to make the transition for a soldier from active duty to veteran seamless when there are medical issues involved?
Hon. Harjit S. Sajjan: One of the challenges, Mr. Chair, for the transition—and this is a very lengthy topic to discuss—is when someone has been injured in the military, that person becomes a veteran. The person then has to talk to another doctor in Veterans Affairs. We are looking for a manner in which we can make this transition seamless, where if someone has seen a military doctor, that person should not have to convince another doctor after the fact.
Mrs. Cheryl Gallant: Mr. Chair, the wait times for retiring armed forces members are horrendous. The men and women who have proudly served this country have to wait anywhere from between four weeks to thirty-six weeks before they receive a cheque. I would have to agree with the minister, in his own words, that it is unacceptable. My question is simple. It has been over a month since the minister said that he would fix the problem. Has anything changed?
Hon. Harjit S. Sajjan: Mr. Chair, this is a problem. We have put more resources on to this issue. A member should not have to wait that long. We are working on this backlog. The chief of the defence staff did brief me on the numbers, but unfortunately I have forgotten the actual percentage that it has been reduced. We are trying to manage this as quickly as possible, and, more importantly, trying to reduce the burden of these files as they come to management level so our members are not waiting for long periods of time.
Mrs. Cheryl Gallant: Last week, it was reported that the chief of the defence staff has said that it is unlikely we will change the universality of service policy. Under our government, National Defence set up a working group to examine universality of services provisions and approve the roles for members who may have to be discharged due to injury. What progress has been made by that working group?
Hon. Harjit S. Sajjan: Mr. Chair, in terms of universality of service, there is obviously a set requirement that our members need to be fully operational. However, when there is an injury or any type of circumstance where a member cannot fulfill those duties, there is a process that is taken. There is an opportunity where we look at how we can employ the member, in other trades potentially. They do go through a process. If they cannot go through that, then they go through a two-year to three-year transition period where they can get all the necessary training and the resources so they can transition into civilian life.