DND and VAC - The Inability to Solve Systemic Problems
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PERIODICAL - Oct 2017
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DND and VAC - The Inability to Solve Systemic Problems
By Perry Gray, Chief Editor VVi
10 Oct 2017 pd db
“Those who cannot remember the
past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
“Leadership starts at the top”
On 5 October 2017, DND and VAC
announced their suicide prevention strategy. For many Veterans, it
is too late and too little.
The DND Ombudsman, Gary
Walbourne, stated the devil will be in the details, noting for
example that National Defence and Veterans Affairs have struggled
for years to hire mental-health workers. The ombudsman and others
also worried that military personnel and veterans will continue to
struggle to access some benefits and services unless the government
changes its policies. "I'm hearing good talk," Walbourne said. "But
I'm a little bit stuck on: Are we just going to put more people into
the same processes that we've always used?"
Senior leadership in both
departments are guilty of ignoring problems, solutions and advice.
For example, “building a smoother, less confusing exit path for
soldiers departing the Canadian military will take another two or
three years to implement and will likely not include significant
recommendations from the Canadian Forces ombudsman” (CBC News 16 Dec
The Chief of Defence Staff,
Jonathan Vance, is a prime example of the failure among leaders. He
ordered a review at the Royal Military College after a troubling
series of events, including a trio of possible suicides among
students and allegations of sexual misconduct. He stated that he was
satisfied with the 227-page report and that it demonstrated there
are no systemic problems at the institution, least of all with
suicide and sexual misconduct. The findings also laid the burden of
stress and low morale at the feet of cadets. (CBC 29 Mar 2017)
It is commonly understood that
a bad worker blames the tools.
It is obvious to most people,
but not the senior CAF leadership. There are systemic problems and
the fault should be with the RMC leadership, not the cadets. The
report stated that cadets were were reluctant to complain for career
and social reasons. This is a clear indication of intimidation
(intentional behaviour that "would cause a person of ordinary
sensibilities" to fear injury or harm).
It was true when Jon Vance was
a cadet, and it was true when I was a cadet.
If anyone needs further proof
of the failure of senior leadership, then consider the comments made
during a day long event on Culture and Diversity in the Armed Forces
co-hosted by the CAF, Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran
Health Research (CIMVHR) and Centre for International and Defence
Policy (CIDP) of Queen’s University on 4 May 2017 in Ottawa. One of
the outstanding systemic problems identified by the speakers was the
inability of the armed forces as well as police forces to recruit
and retain females, members of visible minorities and members of the
One of the most identifiable
reasons was the perpetuation of the “warrior ethos”, specifically
that of Caucasian male heroic stereotypes (John Wayne, Rambo, George
This exists because the CAF
continues to practice training concepts that are more than 100 years
old. These are regularly used to indoctrinate recruits with a single
personality regardless of gender or race. Recruits either adopt this
single identity or often find themselves shunned by their peers.
Those who assimilate are likely to be more successful than those who
either can not or refuse to change.
The failure to integrate
members of diverse groups is reflected in the low recruitment and
Women 15% instead of 25%
Visible minorities 6.5% instead of 11.8%
Native Canadians 2.5% instead of 4.3%
The target numbers are set as
part of CAF recruitment policy so that it complies with government
policy on ensuring equal opportunities for employment for all
Such studies are interesting,
but the question that remains unanswered is what is actually being
Unfortunately, events like the
one discussed above have been held for many decades and identify the
same problems while recommending the same solutions. The real
problem is that senior leadership repeatedly fails to implement
I attended the event with
other Veterans, and we had all attended similar events while serving
in the CAF going back over four decades!
The first comment that I wrote
in my notes was “ one fix does not result in organisational
improvement”. This echoes the comment made above by the DND
It is the same for suicides,
which have been a subject at many DND and VAC sponsored events for
In 2010, the Liberal Party
hosted an event to discuss Veterans issues. One of the key speakers
was LGen Romeo Dallaire, who discussed the suicides among the CAF
contingent sent to Rwanda. It was one of the reasons that he
experiences mental health problems.
Suicide has been a subject at
the various VAC stakeholder summits, a topic of VAC advisory groups
and included in VAC policy. Unfortunately, VAC has repeatedly failed
to find solutions and even worse listen to its advisers.
There are plenty of reasons
(read excuses) for this failure including the fact that VAC only has
access to the medical information of its clients. Clients represent
only about 25% of the total number of Canadian Veterans (200,000 of
800,000). There is a much larger population impacted by the
deficiencies of DND and VAC, the families who are also members of
the Veterans Community.
One of the major failures of
VAC has been the closing of its health care facilities. This
occurred because the federal government only agreed to care for “war
service Veterans”. So there is no special facility for the “war
service Veterans” of the Afghan War, which is the longest conflict
in Canadian military history. The reason that they are not real “war
service Veterans” is the same reason that VAC initially refused
services to Korean War Veterans, they did not fight in a “real” war!
This defies logic. As long as
there is a CAF, there is a likelihood of war. Current events support
Thus there will be a need for
military health care facilities for serving and non-serving
Veterans. It is why the USA has currently 152 VA medical centres and
approximately 1400 community-based outpatient clinics.
By comparison, VAC plans to
have two centres of excellence.
Here is an excerpt from the
Canadian Third Infantry Division Psychiatric Report, October 1944:
6. There was one thing of note
among all troops admitted for exhaustion -- lack of morale or lack
of volition to carry on. The foremost cause of this seems to be
futility. The men claimed there was nothing to which to look forward
-- no rest, no lead, no enjoyment, no normal life and no escape the
only ways one could get out of battle were death, wounds,
self-inflicted wounds or going “nuts”. The second most prominent
cause of this lack of volition seemed to be the insecurity in battle
because the conditions of the battlefield did not allow for average
cover. The third was the fact that they were seeing too much
continual death and destruction, loss of friends, etc. After these
came other minor complaints -- lack of use of captured towns,
comparisons of treatment received by other forces non-combatants and
higher command not allowing them to enjoy the fruits of conquest
etc. etc. Most of them had no insight as to why they were being used
to fight so hard and steadily. (page 309, Cinderella Army Terry Copp
These observations can be
easily appreciated by Veterans, regardless of where or when they
served. They are timeless as many Veterans have expressed futility
-- with orders, missions, roles, etc.
This is contradicts the most
basic and important fundamental of military leadership:
“the process of influencing
others to accomplish the mission by providing purpose, direction,
So Jon Vance stop blaming
others for your failures. This applies equally to the other DND and
VAC leaders, who have failed the Veterans Community. If you fail at
your job, then you can expect others to fail because they are
Of note, in a 2006 survey, 47%
of those responding answered “somewhat/strongly disagreed” that CAF
senior leadership is trusted. Trust, respect and loyalty all words
that are important in any military, if they are lacking or even seem
to be lacking then there is a systemic problem.
Of note, I had a conversation
on 4 October 2017 with the VAC deputy minister, Walt Natynczyk,
during which he mentioned the recent VAC survey, which will become a
regular operation every two years. I wrote to him later about the
systemic problems of surveys and related reviews (such as the RMC
review mentioned above). They are often examples of “lies, damned
lies and statistics” (British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli).
Surveys are often worded in a
way to get the results that the people paying for the poll want. For
example, most election polls in 2016 indicated (70-99% certainty)
that Hilary Clinton was going to win.
I also reminded him of the
dangers of circular reporting, when a report is disseminated by one
agency and then disseminated by others until it is widely accepted
as being the truth. This applies both to media reporting and
Finally, I mentioned directed
intelligence in which military leaders reject information that is
contrary to their own views.
For example, the presence of
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq before the US invasion in
2003. All reports indicating the presence of WMD’s were widely
accepted (often without validating the information) and everything
else was rejected by senior national leadership.
The lesson to learn is that
just because you think that something is true or false, this is not
evidence that you are right.
As always, you are free to
draw your own conclusions. You are encouraged to do more research
because I may be wrong.
Additional Information (add
the pdf, below).
Perry Gray is a
Regular Force veteran, serving as the Chief Editor of VVi. Perry has
been with VVi for 16 years.
Additional Information (pdf)...
and Diversity in CAF.pdf
See Periodical No 201785...http://veteranvoice.info/archive/Periodicals/Periodical_17Oct.htm
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