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Close the gap between a soldier’s medical discharge and getting benefits

Gary Walbourne, the Defence Ombudsman of the Canadian Armed Forces, is right to recommend that no military personnel should be given a medical discharge until their postmilitary benefits from the Veterans Affairs department are in place.

Otherwise, they can go months and sometimes years before receiving their first benefits payments.

As things stand, former military personnel may have to tell, retell and again retell their troubles to a long succession of physicians in order to get the veterans' benefits they deserve. That's because, while the Ministry of Defence has control of a soldier's files and treats him or her medically until they are discharged, it's bizarrely up to Veterans Affairs to decide whether an injury was service-related or not.

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A streamlined process may cost somewhat more money, but there is an excellent case to be made that the Ombudsman's proposals will save money in the long run.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan doesn't seem very happy with Mr. Walbourne's ideas, however. He wrote to the Ombudsman saying that the CAF has "no extant statutory or policy mandate to systematically determine if an illness developed or an injury sustained during a member's career is related to their military service."

That's ridiculous. Surely that should be all the more reason to establish just such a mandate, so as to be able to make just such a determinations.

Mr. Sajjan's mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year said that he should bring about "a seamless transition" for members of the Forces to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

All this is compounded by the distress and emptiness that many former members of the military naturally feel when they leave the camaraderie of the Forces. The mandate letter also says there needs to be a suicide prevention strategy for CAF personnel and veterans.

The physical and mental health of CAF personnel will be all the more important if and when they are sent to dangerous places such as Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of the government's new "peace security operations." The government should heed Mr. Walbourne's excellent advice.

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