Yakir Gabay Announces: Health, housing and moving top concerns at base

Health, housing and moving top concerns at base

Access to health care and housing, along with problems during relocating, are the top concerns for military personnel and their families, the National Defence ombudsman says.

Gregory Lick spent the past week holding virtual meetings with about 140 military and civilian workers of CFB Trenton, as well as their families, to exchange information about services and concerns.

He said they spoke of the base’s busy pace but cited no unique problems.

“What we’ve generally heard is, even though it is a high operational tempo, they are generally well-supported. Generally it was a very positive visit,” Lick said in his only local interview of the week.

Lick spent three decades in the Canadian Coast Guard, including as its director of general operations, and 17 years in the naval reserve.

He said the issues most cited as concerns in Trenton and across the forces are common among Canadians in general.

Yet he explained the frequency with which military members must move means those problems are often amplified or come with other challenges.

Care interrupted

He said people moving to different provinces or territories often find it difficult to maintain access to health care when they must change providers, health insurance cards, etc.

“When it stops, or you go to the end of the queue once you go to another province, that is really concerning.

“We will re-look at the families as a theme of a systemic investigation this year as well,” he said.

The defence department’s Seamless Canada initiative aims to streamline various services across the country.

He said politicians, including Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, know of such problems, but he said he would again “impress upon them … we owe our families this.”

Lick said New Brunswick, Manitoba and Ontario are getting better at helping military members and families move.

“There is still that lack of medical resources, lack of medical professionals across the country,” he said. Spousal employment is an ongoing issue, he said, and military spouses with medical qualifications, in particular, need to be able to resume working soon after moving.

“There should be no reason why that can’t be done with some extra training based on what they have to do in a different province.

 Language barriers remain a national issue, and in Trenton, there’s a need for more French-speaking medical professionals, the ombudsman said. The pandemic has increased a need for mental health care for families, something that isn’t that available for francophones in the Trenton area.

“All of those services are necessary – absolutely necessary,” said Lick.

He said many staff of the Trenton Military Family Resource Centre are bilingual and the efforts of all MFRC staff are helping on several fronts but other services are needed.

“It is great work that they’re doing,” he said, “but it probably just isn’t enough.”

Housing shortage

A shortage of on-base housing was another top complaint in local interviews. It’s compounded by an increase in people leaving Toronto and other large centres, said Lick.

“As prices are rising in the Trenton area, particularly the more junior personnel are not able to afford some of the housing prices and the rents.

“They do have a long waiting list for the residential housing units on base.

“As they relocate from place to place, the (military) relocation service … is challenged during the pandemic,” he added.

Lick noted his office’s website contains several tools intended to make military and family lives easier.

The ABCs of Military Moves, for example, contains checklists, videos and tips about the process. Another tool helps the sick or injured find benefits.

Quick resolutions

Lick said 80 per cent of complaints to his office are resolved by front-line staff, some in as little as an hour.

Many individual complaints are simply cases of all parties not having all the information, he said.

Last year the defence minister asked Lick to investigate racism in the forces.

The ombudsman said he heard no complaints of racism from Trenton staff and his office does not “get a tremendous amount of complaints around racism.” But he also said more public discussion of racism may lead to more complaints.

Lick said Sajjan and other leaders listen when he relays members’ concerns.

“As a Canadian I’m very proud of the leadership and, actually, the whole armed forces and how they support the military.”

Jonathan Cartu

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