The Chief of the Defence Staff is planning to create a branch of human-resource professionals within the military that would be dedicated to helping retiring soldiers, sailors and aviators step more easily into civilian life.
One of the most difficult problems facing the Canadian Forces in recent years has been the uneven, and often jarring, process for discharging personnel.
That is especially true for members of the military who are forced out of their jobs as a result of a service-related injury and sometimes have to wait unreasonable amounts of time for the benefits that will cover their basic expenses. But even uninjured veterans, reservists in particular, have waited months for their first pension cheques. And the psychological impact of taking off a uniform for the last time can be severe.
General Jonathan Vance told a Senate committee on Wednesday he has plans to make the transition out of the military more seamless.
His plans include the re-establishment of a defunct branch of the Armed Forces called the personnel administration branch and the eventual disbandment of the Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU), which was created during the war in Afghanistan to deal with the needs of ill and injured soldiers and now performs many of the discharge functions.
"We will change our approach from that which is provided by the current JPSU and staff an organization that will exist across the country and provide expertise and direct support to those members who are retiring, regardless of what the reason is for why they are retiring," Gen. Vance told the senators.
The intent is to put the job of transition into the hands of trained human-resource experts and to ensure that no member leaves the forces without all of their paperwork completed, the general said. In fact, he later told reporters, he would like no member of the military to leave the forces until their first pension cheque is ready to be mailed.
The time it takes to process a military pension improved last year when the public service took over the job. Now, 96 per cent of all retiring members of the Canadian Armed Forces who complete their paperwork on time are getting their cheques within a month, Gen. Vance said.
He said while the new branch would initially be involved with the transition, it could later expand to perform other human resources functions.
But much more could be done to make the retirement process easier and to improve the lives of veterans, he said. "It's a truism that if you leave well, content, satisfied, looking back on your career, then you will provide more of a positive reinforcement to those who wish to join," Gen. Vance said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr in their mandate letters to create a "seamless transition" from the military to Veterans Affairs.
And both the Military ombudsman and the Veterans Affairs ombudsman have said this must be a priority.
That could mean allowing injured military personnel who no longer meet the universality of service rule, which requires them to be ready to deploy anywhere at any time, to stay in uniform longer, Gen. Vance said.
At the moment, they have three years from the date they are told they must leave the forces to the date they must be out the door. But some people with reduced physical capacity can, on a temporary basis, still do some of the jobs in the Armed Forces that need to be done, Gen. Vance said. "So I am looking into that."
At the same time, he said, those members also must be fully aware that their primary mission is to prepare for the transition and to take part in any rehabilitation and acquire any skills or education they will need to succeed as civilians.
"Many of our policies underpinning how we manage our people are decades old or they have their basis ideas in decades-old ideas about modern human-resource management and personnel management in an armed forces. They are out of date," Gen. Vance said.
"We need to take a more individualized and customized approach to someone's transition."