Friday, April 4, 2008

Reservists shafted on health care: Military Ombudsman

This is from the Chronicleherald. The situation seems a mess. We will have to see if Harper can move quickly to repair the system. Of course many reservists are on duty only for very short periods so there is a real issue of what entitlements they have. Even so generous health care coverage would make recruitment easier and being in the reserves more attractive. I wonder how other countries deal with this issue?

Reservists shafted on health
Military ombudsman finds major inequities in medical benefits
By CHRIS LAMBIE Staff Reporter
Fri. Apr 4 - 10:53 AM

Military brass often trumpet that it’s impossible to tell reservists from regular-force soldiers in the field, but a damning report released Thursday shows the difference once some part-time warriors are injured.

Investigators working for the military ombudsman’s office interviewed almost 400 people — most of them reservists — since 2006 and reviewed mountains of documents to get to the bottom of complaints about how the Canadian Forces treats injured reservists.

Among their findings is the bombshell that compensation for reservists who lose a limb is only 40 per cent of what regular-force soldiers receive.

"If a part-time reservist and a regular-force member are involved in the same accident and each loses one of their hands, the regular-force member would be compensated for up to $125,000, compared to the reservist who would receive a maximum of $50,000," Mary McFadyen, the military’s interim ombudsman, told reporters Thursday.

"This is unacceptable. The limb of a reservist is worth the same as the limb of a regular-force member."

The military has denied reservists care because they are technically not on duty, Ms. McFadyen said.

"Investigators were told of a case where a reservist injured himself one evening while on duty at his unit," she said. "At that time, no medical personnel were on duty.

"The next morning, he presented himself to Canadian Forces medical authorities for care. But since he was not considered to be on duty that morning, he was told he was not eligible to receive care for the injury. This is clearly unfair. Quite frankly, the rule should be if you break them, you fix them."

Reservists injured while on duty face many challenges when it comes to getting medical care, Ms. McFadyen said.

"Regular-force members do not face the same challenges," she said.

"These problems are not new. They have existed for decades, despite some attempts by the Canadian Forces to resolve them. Nevertheless, these issues continue to plague reservists and also health-care providers."

The probe reveals significant differences in the way the military provides health care to reservists.

"At some times and some places, reservists receive all aspects of medical care through the military health system, including followup care such as physiotherapy, transportation to medical appointments and pay for their time," Ms. McFad-yen said.

"At other times and in other places, reservists may receive initial acute care for their injuries and are then referred to the provincial system. This brings numerous complications, including transportation difficulties, loss of training or duty time and ongoing care challenges."

The 64-page report notes that "more and more, reserve-force members are being called upon to assist the Canadian Forces in delivering on its mandate," and that about 20 per cent of Canada’s contingent in Afghanistan are reservists.

Ms. McFadyen said reservists injured in Afghanistan are entitled to the same treatment as regular-force soldiers. But that’s not the case across the board.

"In return for their commitment to train and serve their country, reservists rightfully expect to receive the best care possible when they are injured or become ill while on duty or away from their home while performing military service," says the report, titled Reserved Care.

Standards are different or applied differently to reservists when it comes to "periodic health assessments, immunizations, the treatment of injuries sustained while maintaining physical fitness, and medical record-handling and storage," says the report.

Health-care regulations governing reservists are confusing, it says.

"As a result, there are huge inequities in the interpretation of when health care will be provided, which is frustrating for medical officials and reservists."

"No one is really 100 per cent sure who gets what,"" the military’s director general of health services told investigators in January 2007. ""Nobody really knows, including me, and I run the system."

NDP MP Peter Stoffer was livid Thursday after reading that quote from the report.

"Un-friggin’-believable," said Mr. Stoffer, who represents Sackville-Eastern Shore.

The problem isn’t a new one, he said.

"The auditor general’s report came out a while ago slamming this and all we hear are platitudes — ‘Yes, we’re going to improve things.’ "

The report makes 12 recommendations to improve the system, including that all Forces members should receive the same compensation for the same injury and that the military should develop a new framework governing the entitlement to and provision of medical and dental care for the various categories of reservists.

"These problems are serious. They affect morale and quality of life," Ms. McFadyen said. "Reserve personnel must be treated fairly and it is imperative that changes be made quickly."

The Conservative government "values the contributions of reservists in contributing to our safety and well-being and we care about the quality of their life," Dan Dugas, director of communications for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said in an e-mail

"Minister MacKay has put the wheels in motion to ensure reservists and regular-force soldiers are compensated equally following injury, and that shows our determination to make things right for our reservists," said Mr. Dugas.


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