NEWS: Around the Arctic December 05, 2017 - 3:27 pm

Canadian Rangers losing out on health benefits, watchdog finds

Many Rangers don’t report injuries or claim health entitlements

JIM BELL

The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are failing to ensure that Canadian Rangers, many of whom are Inuit, First Nations or Métis, receive health care benefits and entitlements available to other reservists, Canada’s military watchdog said in a report released today.

Gary Walbourne, the National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces ombudsman, launched an investigation in 2016 aimed at figuring out why many Canadian Rangers don’t receive the health care benefits that they’re entitled to.

In his final report based on that investigation, Walbourne found many Rangers often don’t report injuries sustained while they’re on duty and don’t know about benefits they’re entitled to from Veterans Affairs Canada or how to apply for them.

“Respondents interviewed who self-identified as having sustained an injury while on duty were subsequently asked if they had considered submitting a claim to Veterans Affairs Canada—the vast majority responded that they did not,” Walbourne said in his 31-page report.

The most common reason for that is a lack of awareness among Rangers about the benefits available to them, Walbourne said.

In his report, he also found that:

• Rangers are reservists, but Armed Forces policies and orders regarding their health care benefits are inconsistent and ambiguous.

• Within the chain of command, the physical and psychological fitness of Rangers is not formally monitored or assessed.

• The illnesses and injuries of Rangers who are on duty are not consistently reported or adequately tracked.

• Many Rangers live in remote and isolated communities where health care is hard to access.

And Walbourne said that many Rangers and their commanding officers cited poor access to mental health services in remote regions as a big worry.

“Members of the chain of command and the Canadian Ranger community alike identified access to mental health services as problematic,” his report said.

While on active service, Canadian Rangers are exposed to traumatic situations, such as search-and-rescue operations, and Walbourne quoted one senior commander as saying “we need to have something in place to help them.”

Also, Canadian Rangers are not formally screened for their physical fitness when they’re recruited, so some suffer from medical conditions that would normally bar others from entering the Canadian Armed Forces.

“Many Canadian Rangers were forthcoming about diabetes, heart conditions, and other ailments that affect members of their communities; conditions that would likely disqualify many of them from serving if they became subject to military fitness and medical standards,” Walbourne said.

However, screening out such people could result in a big loss of knowledge, land skills and expertise, he said.

About 5,000 Canadian Rangers, divided up among five patrol groups, serve in almost every province and territory of Canada.

Many are from Indigenous communities and come from up to 25 language groups, and include members of Inuit, Dene, Cree and other First Nations peoples.

The largest group, 1 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, covers Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Atlin, B.C., and numbers 3,350 Rangers and Junior Rangers, as well as 63 full-time staff.

Rangers and Junior Rangers from Nunavik and the James Bay Cree territory, as well as those who are from other Indigenous peoples living inside the boundaries of Quebec, 1,567 in all, serve within 2 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, supported by 42 full-time staff.

Rangers, who are classed as reservists, are widely praised for the work they do in rapid emergency response, search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance.

Walbourne made four recommendations:

• DND and the Armed Forces should eliminate inconsistencies and ambiguities in their health benefits policies for reservists.

• DND and the Armed Forces should work with Canadian Rangers to help them understand why they should report injuries and to improve their knowledge of the health care entitlements and benefits that are available to them.

• DND and the Armed Forces should ensure that they comply with existing rules for the reporting of illnesses and injuries among Canadian Rangers.

• DND and the Armed Forces should work with Canadian Rangers to figure out their barriers to health care and create a service delivery model that responds to their needs.

In a written response, Harjit Sajjan, the minister of national defence, said he concurs with Walbourne’s report and will ask DND and the Canadian Armed Forces to clarify their policies.

“This effort will be supported by effective instruction on illness and injury identification and reporting which will be integrated in all levels of Ranger training,” Sajjan said.

He also said he will work to ensure Canadian Rangers understand all their health care options.

“The CAF will also systemically review the cultural, geographical, economic, and social aspects of Canadian Rangers in order to minimize barriers to receiving health care,” Sajjan said.

  Rangers Report, November 30, 2017 by NunatsiaqNews on Scribd