Presentation to the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence on Canada's Defence Policy Review

Sep 20, 2016
MGen (Ret) Richard V. Blanchette

Good afternoon, it is a great pleasure to appear in front of your committee. I am pleased to be able to speak to you this afternoon on behalf of our Dominion President, Comrade Mr. Dave Flannigan and nearly 300,000 members. I am accompanied by Comrade Charls Gendron, secretary of the Defence & Security Committee of the Royal Canadian Legion. The RCL’s mission is to serve veterans, which includes active military and RCMP members and their families, to promote Remembrance, and to serve our communities and our country.

J’ai succédé à feu le général Bill Leach à la présidence du Comité de Défense et sécurité de la Légion et ce dernier m’avait décrit le poste comme étant la porte d’entrée ou le point de contact avec les différents ministères dont les décisions affectent les anciens combattants et les membres des Forces armées canadiennes en service, ainsi que les policiers retraités ou en service à la Gendarmerie royale du Canada. Les questions d’équipement, d’entraînement, de soldes ou salaires et de moral font toutes partie du mandat de ce comité que j’ai l’honneur de présider.

When you consider these responsibilities, rest assured that the Legion did not commit “mission creep” as we used to say at Staff College. Our organization, your Legion, was created by an Act of Parliament in 1926 and to this day we have been assisting veterans through our legislative mandate in both the Pension Act and New Veterans Charter. The Legion is the only veteran service organization which assists veterans and their families with representation to Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Our 22 professional Service Officers are located across the country and provide free assistance to veterans and their families with obtaining benefits and services from VAC, and one does not have to be a Legion member to avail himself or herself of our services.

Accordingly, the Legion feels the new defence policy should hinge on the people who will make this defence policy work. I have had an opportunity to brief two members of the Minister’s Advisory Panel, namely General Henault and Margaret Purdy, on this very subject here in Ottawa. In June, I had a similar opportunity in Halifax when I participated in a round table discussion chaired by Parliamentary Secretary John McKay. On both of these occasions, I presented eight recommendations which were related to personnel issues affecting both serving and retired members of the CAF and the RCMP. I will not repeat them in these opening comments, hoping that they have already made their way to whoever needs to hear them for a Defence Policy Review more attuned to personnel issues.

Aujourd’hui, c’est plutôt sur les questions touchant les opérations de soutien à la paix que vous voulez nous entendre. Je me limiterai ici à formuler quatre recommandations relatives à ce sujet.

Our first recommendation will not sound new to your ears but it does need to be repeated. A DPR is a challenging mental and practical exercise that needs to be based on a wider national security strategy (NSS). Such a national security strategy has to take into accounts all the assets, military and non-military, that Canada has at its disposal. Our American, British, Australian and French allies have all followed this much more logical approach. It is now clear that our new government has elected to put the cart before the horse. Of course, we will hear that there was, there is and there will be a lot of consultation with other departments and organizations to produce the new defence policy but like many analysts have said before me, we are missing a great opportunity to take a global look at how Canada can contribute to the security of the world we live in. My recommendation has to be pragmatic though. The train has already left the station. The announcements made on 26 August by Ministers Dion, Sajjan, Goodale and Bibeau on peace operations confirmed it. There will not be a NSS that will guide the preparation of the new DP. In its stead, our recommendation is that staff officers and public servants developing the DPR develop a solid set of assumptions that will go further than the set of mandate letters to ministers. These assumptions would never replace a NSS but it would greatly facilitate the drafting of the new DP.

Notre deuxième recommandation est que l’examen de la politique de défense ne mène pas au développement de capacités tellement spécialisées que leurs coûts fassent en sorte qu’une capacité polyvalente de combat, tant dans les opérations offensives que défensives soit sacrifiée. Cet équilibre entre la spécialisation et la polyvalence doit être maintenu dans les cinq éléments, puisque l’on se doit de maintenant compter à ce titre l’espace et le cyberespace.

Our third recommendation is that if the CAF deploy personnel more often, the GoC has to build in the planning process an evaluation of long term costs associated with supporting the families at home and the veterans themselves, even after they will have retired from active service. This implies a much closer cooperation between DND and VAC, over and above the constructive idea of naming Minister Hehr also Associate Minister of National Defence.

Notre quatrième recommandation est que le gouvernement du Canada, advenant une participation accrue aux opérations de paix, prenne les mesures nécessaires pour améliorer la coopération interministérielle essentielle à ces déploiements toujours internationaux, interarmes et civils-militaires. L’approche 3D ou pangouvernementale apprise difficilement avec l’Équipe de Reconstruction Provinciale (PRT) de Kandahar doit être revue et améliorée en fonction des théâtres opérationnels à venir.

In conclusion, the RCL has nearly 300 000 members and follows the DPR closely. We are grateful that your committee allowed us to contribute to your study.

La Légion apprécie grandement les occasions qu’elle a de communiquer avec le gouvernement, soit directement ou indirectement. Nous notons toutefois que le Ministère de la défense devrait développer une politique organisationnelle qui chercherait à augmenter l’interface avec les anciens combattants de manière à profiter de leur expérience et de leur unique point de vue. En toute évidence, la Légion pourrait appuyer une telle politique et c’est dans cette perspective que nous présentons les huit recommandations suivantes.

Sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen are veterans by definition but they will one day retire and the Legion appreciates the double hatting of an Associate MND and Minister of Veterans Affairs. This will help doing away with some of the irritants known to happen during the transition from active service to retirement. The “tag team” DND-VAC is an excellent start but it must not only be connected at the top. Our first recommendation is therefore that this interdepartmental connexion be reinforced at all levels of authority.

The positive transition to civilian life after release is essential for all CAF and RCMP members, and their families as well. The experience of retirement is different and unique for each veteran. Some voluntarily leave after a short period of service, some are single, some have young families and some are in need of employment. Others are injured in service to their country and they must make this transition under difficult circumstances. Our second recommendation is that DND, VAC and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (for the RCMP) put in place complementary policies, practices and programs supported by a sustainable research program to enable the healthy transition of all veterans and their families. In this regard, I draw your attention to the important and growing role of the Canadian Institute of Military and Veterans Health Research (CIMVHR) which involves 41 Canadian and foreign universities under the lead of Queen’s University. We have to face the harsh reality that these health issues are with us for a long time and this Defence Policy Review needs to cover and leverage the excellent work that this institute is already performing.

Our third recommendation is an extension of the previous one. The Legion is seeing a change in the needs of some of our younger veterans. Many have invisible wounds and challenges with their transition to civilian live. Our experience from the national Veterans Transition Program provides evidence that some veterans and their families feel isolated and need to be welcomed home in a very real way. The Veterans Transition Program, the only program of its kind in Canada, assists former members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP in their transition to civilian life. This program was developed to address the invisible wounds of our soldiers so that they can function better in society. This program was established in 1999 with funding from Legion BC/Yukon Command. It is a group-based program facilitated by the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine. VAC supports the program and we recommend that DND recognize and support the expansion of the Veterans Transition Program nationally, and ensure that serving CAF members affected by operational stress injuries be given the time off to have access to the program.

Notre quatrième recommandation touche aux entrevues de transition. Celles-ci doivent être menées tôt dans le processus de libération de manière à aider les membres et leurs familles à identifier d’avance leurs besoins. Pour les membres en service qui reçoivent déjà l’appui d’un gestionnaire de cas d’Anciens Combattants Canada, nous recommandons fortement qu’une partie de l’entrevue de transition soit menée en présence des membres de la famille.

Indeed, we all know that families are the strength behind the uniform and must be engaged in the transition process from the very start, especially when it is not a physical injury. Families can request assistance from Military Family Resource Centres as there is a Family Liaison Officer, a social worker located in the Integrated Personnel Support Centres, who can provide assistance to the family. Given that Military Family Resource Centres are well established in areas where we have a large number of veterans, our fifth recommendation is that DND consider opening MFRCs to all military members, veterans and their families.

The Legion continues to be concerned with the lack of a formal capability and/or program that proactively reaches out to Reserve Units and their members to ensure that Reserve Force members are being looked after with regards to disability benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada. With this in mind, the Legion sent two years ago a letter to every Reserve unit in Canada, offering a briefing on our Service Bureau Network and the assistance available from the Legion. To date, we have briefed more than 500 Reservists on our services but more importantly, our sixth recommendation is that the military chain of command proactively support the organization and execution of these briefings to Reserve units.

The Legion maintains an extensive outreach program through seminars of the Second Career Assistance Network (SCAN) on all bases/wings to inform members of our services. The Legion also has a presence at most of the Canadian Forces Integrated Personnel Support Centres on each base to assist veterans and their families, as part of the transition process. However, many serving members have not been informed of our services and our seventh recommendation is therefore complementary to the previous one. The chain of command needs to ensure that all Regular Force serving members, throughout their professional development, be briefed on and knowledgeable about the services available to them. Bien que nous ne soyons pas en mesure d’établir un lien direct entre ce manque de connaissances des services offerts et le haut taux de suicides parmi les militaires en service et les anciens combattants, nous avons la conviction qu’un meilleur rayonnement de l’aide disponible aura un effet positif sur le moral des troupes et de la communauté militaire dans son ensemble.

The New Veterans Charter and the Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act are comprehensive and complex. Our veterans need to know not only the weaknesses but also the strengths behind the legislation, programs, services and benefits. We are far from a reasonable standard and I would suggest that this highlights the ineffectiveness of the Government’s communication of the programs and services available to veterans. Our eight and final recommendation is therefore that the Government needs to better communicate how it will put in place the resources and programs to meet the needs expressed in all ministerial mandate letters. In other words, this must not be a self-service for our veterans; they deserve to be told what there is on this complex menu that affects their very livelihood.

In conclusion, rest assured that our programs will continue to evolve to meet the changing Canadian demographics while still supporting our traditional veteran community. However, notwithstanding the capacity of The Royal Canadian Legion, we certainly believe that the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, among other departments and organisations, have a responsibility to ensure that policies, practices and programs, supported through a sustainable research program, be accessible and meet the unique needs of all veterans, serving, about to retire or already retired. Ce sont eux, comme mentionné dans mon introduction, qui feront en sorte que l’examen de la politique de la Défense du Canada mènera aux succès opérationnels escomptés.