Army Commander responds to Ombudsman’s recommendations on Canadian Rangers’ health care

Article / December 6, 2017 / Project number: 17-0339

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

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Ottawa, Ontario — The Commander of the Canadian Army (CA) said he is committed to addressing recommendations from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Ombudsman on improving healthcare for Canadian Rangers (generally referred to as Rangers).

CAF Ombudsman Gary Walbourne identified several areas for improvement in a report entitled Canadian Rangers: A Systemic Investigation on the Factors that Impact Healthcare Entitlements and Related Benefits that was published December 5, 2017.

“On behalf of the Canadian Army, I would like to thank the Ombudsman for his report. We accept the recommendations and we will work to address all of the concerns,” said Lieutenant-General Paul Wynnyk, Commander Canadian Army.

“The Canadian Army is currently working with the Canadian Forces Health Services and with provincial health care agencies to address the recommendations found in the Ombudsman report,” he added. “It is important that we continue to offer the best possible care and support to our people in order to build a strong and agile defence organization, sustained and supported by healthy and resilient members.”

Ranger patrol groups “demonstrated goodwill and strong interest” in his inquiries, Mr. Walbourne noted.

The Ombudsman’s report notes that Rangers face a number of challenges in accessing healthcare.

Rangers, who are a sub-component of the Army Reserve, serve as the CA’s eyes and ears in remote areas and that geography means they must rely on civilian health care options that are not always readily available. The Ombudsman recommends that CA leaders engage directly with Rangers to identify the barriers to healthcare and implement a more responsive service delivery model.

The report concludes that, while Rangers are entitled to the same health benefits as other elements of the Army Reserve, the related policies are “vague” and “confusing.” The report recommends that any ambiguity be clarified no later than the spring of 2019. All Reservists who are injured or fall ill on duty are provided care by the Canadian Forces Health Services Group until such time as their care can be safely transferred to a civilian primary care provider.

Rangers surveyed for the report also said they are unaware of services to which they are entitled through Veteran’s Affairs Canada. More than 80 per cent said they had not even considered submitting such claims.

The Ombudsman also concluded that illness and injury among Rangers are not being consistently reported or adequately tracked. More than a quarter of the paperwork filled out by ill or injured Rangers, he noted, were not being transferred to Director Casualty Support Management, the office responsible.

Just over half of Rangers interviewed for the report are not reporting injuries, and cited several reasons for it. Some had underestimated the severity of their health issues, while others found care through other sources or were concerned about potential career implications.

The Ombudsman is recommending CAF and the Department of National Defence take steps to ensure compliance with existing reporting processes so Rangers are not prevented from accessing healthcare entitlements.

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