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Rangers not getting full health benefits: investigator

Canadian Rangers, who are entitled to the same health care and related benefits as other reservists, are faced with many obstacles in accessing those benefits.

Canadian Rangers, such as these members of 1 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group seen here in Rankin Inlet in August 2016, face many barriers to the health care they have a right to.
photo courtesy Belinda Groves/JTFN photos

That's the conclusion National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne has reached after an in-depth investigation launched in April 2016.

"In practice Canadian Rangers face numerous barriers in accessing those entitlements, and this places them at a disadvantage," stated Walbourne in his report released Dec. 5.

The 34-page report, A Systemic Investigation of the Factors that Impact Health Care Entitlements and Related Benefits of the Rangers, presents four detailed recommendations to Minister of National Defence Harjit S. Sajjan.

There are approximately 5,000 Canadian Rangers divided into five Canadian Ranger Patrol Groups,

each covering a distinct geographical area. The number of patrols varies at each patrol group, with the highest being 60 (or 3,500 Rangers and Junior Rangers) at the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, which encompasses Nunavut, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories and Atlin, B.C., according to the report.

Walbourne's report is available in Inuktitut, English, Denesuline, Ojibway, Ojicree, and Montagnais.

"As an integral component of the Canadian Armed Forces, it is important that Canadian Rangers be fully aware of their Canadian Armed Forces entitlements as reservists. Their lack of awareness of their health care entitlements and related benefits is an impediment to accessing these entitlements," stated Walbourne, adding communication about entitlements should take place in the Rangers' language.

The ombudsman noted Rangers live in remote and isolated communities where health care is hard to access, and he found that also to be the case with mental health care, which is part of the health care package Rangers can expect, but may not be aware of, the investigation found.

"Accessibility to mental health services was found to be a concern, because mental health service providers might not understand the context within which the Canadian Rangers work and live. Canadian Rangers can be exposed to traumatic situations, so access to mental health services is critical," stated Walbourne.

The ombudsman also found issues related to the reporting of illnesses and injuries.

"Canadian Rangers, similar to other reservists, are failing to report or consistently track their illnesses and injuries. Several reasons were cited for this including: underestimating the severity of the injury, fearing removal from a particular activity, fearing long-term career implications, and finding health care through other sources," states Walbourne.

The ombudsman's recommendations are:

- eliminating ambiguity and inconsistency in language in the policy framework for reservists, with a focus on health care entitlements, as soon as possible, and no later than spring 2019;

- that the department and the Armed Forced ensure compliance with the existing illness and injury reporting process so that Canadian Rangers are not inadvertently barred from accessing their health care entitlements and related benefits;

- that delivery of health care is ensured by engaging with Canadian Rangers to identify the barriers to their access to Armed Forces health care, and their health care needs within their social and cultural contexts, and identifying and implementing a service delivery model responsive to the identified needs of the Rangers;

Finally, Walbourne recommends that the department and the Armed forces make certain to communicate the importance of reporting injuries, as well as improving Rangers' knowledge and awareness of benefits they have rights to.

Walbourne noted some of the issues could be dealt with by improving the instructor-Ranger ratio, an area he said is under-resourced.

"The extensive administrative tasks required of the Canadian Ranger instructors, coupled with low instructor to Canadian Ranger ratios, are fundamentally detrimental to their ability to fully educate and support the Canadian Rangers in their patrols," he said.

In an October letter included in the report, Sajjan says, "The health and well-being of the Canadian Rangers is of paramount importance; no obstacles must prevent our provision of care to the members of this organization."

The minister indicates the Canadian Armed Forces will address the issues identified by Walbourne.

"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," Brigadier-General Rob Roy MacKenzie, Chief of Staff, Army Reserve, stated in a news release accompanying the report.

Read the report: A Systemic Investigation of the Factors that Impact Health Care Entitlements and Related Benefits of the Rangers