Canadian Forces families are being denied services and benefits by the military or are forced to deal with an overly bureaucratic system that is sometimes not relevant to their needs, according to Defence Department records.
For years, various generals, as well as Defence Minister Peter MacKay, have publicly identified Canadian Forces families as the backbone to a well functioning military. But the system set up to provide services and benefits to those families is facing a series of problems, military leaders were told in November and December.
In providing feedback to the military, families noted that the system is "overly bureaucratic" and "complex to navigate" and "inconsistently implemented nationally" and "not relevant to the need of different family types." The system was also described as being inflexible in solving problems.
The records were obtained by the Citizen using the Access to Information law. The documents summarize the presentations made by the National Military Family Council to Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk and other senior leaders. The council is an advisory group that provides a voice for military families to the senior leadership of the Canadian Forces and Department of National Defence.
The group noted a number of concerns, including reports from families who say they are being denied services and benefits..
"Families feel they only receive support if they meet the narrow definitions provided in program policies and mandates," the council said.
There were also a number of barriers to accessing services, including bureaucratic red tape, geography and language issues.
In addition, military families reported they lacked awareness on the scope and availability of programs offered for them. There are a large variety of services available, ranging from health care to counselling to help with relocating to a new city or base.
The senior leaders were also told that the military family services program used too narrow an interpretation of family. The program was further faulted for providing services only during the workday and making its services "only available to those who live very close."
The "parameters for practice" governing the program, set up in 1991, have not been updated in a decade. In the meantime, "the demographics and reality" of military families has changed, the officers were told.
Natynczyk highlighted his concern that decisions being taken at a higher level were not being followed up at lower levels.
The outcome of the meeting was the development of a series of recommendations, including the proposed creation of a national publicity campaign to highlight the role of National Military Family Council to military members.
In a presentation in May, and published on the Internet, Candace Thorne, chairperson of the military family council, pointed out that there are many issues affecting the services provided to military families, including those dealing with relocation, the extra living allowances personnel receive if they are sent to particular cities, problems accessing services and child care.
"These themes are not new and we don't expect them to disappear or be easily resolved," she noted.
Thorne also pointed out in her presentation that there are inconsistencies in the way families are involved in mental health recovery and rehabilitation at various bases. Canadian Forces bases at Petawawa and Valcartier, Que. have both seen a high number of mental health issues, she added.
"Families in locations that have seen a high number of mental health issues (such as Valcartier/Petawawa) have had to be responsive in the provision of supports and services," her presentation pointed out. "Locations where there is a relatively low population of members experiencing mental health issues are less likely to have the same level and types of support available."
Earlier this year the Citizen obtained an internal report which warned that emotionally-damaged Afghanistan war veterans at CFB Petawawa were being neglected by a mental health treatment system that is in "crisis."
The report, written by a group of civilian clinicians who provide much of the care to hundreds of mentally ill soldiers from the base, was prepared for the military leadership at CFB Petawawa.
It described a system that is poorly funded, devoid of forward planning, scrambling to provide even basic care and leaving mentally ill, often-suicidal soldiers waiting four months or more before a psychiatric or psychologist is available to treat them.
Senior military officers, however, countered that the Canadian Forces system dealing with mental health issues is among the best in NATO. Gen. Natynczyk and other generals have also heaped praise on MacKay and the Conservative government for their efforts in ensuring such services are funded and available.
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