OTTAWA — The Defence Department ombudsman says the military should be doing more to provide health support for the Canadian Rangers who patrol vast stretches of the North.
In his latest report, ombudsman Gary Walbourne says many Rangers aren’t even aware of their health care entitlements and often fail to report injuries or illness.
The report also says mental health services for the Rangers need to be beefed up.
The 5,000 Rangers are part-time reservists recruited from northern communities who conduct sovereignty patrols and generally keep an eye on isolated areas.
The ombudsman’s report says the military should make it clear to Rangers what health services are available and how to access them.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says he has instructed the Canadian Forces to work with the ombudsman to address the report’s recommendations.
“The Canadian Army is already looking at ways to remove barriers, and improve the support and care for the Canadian Rangers,” Sajjan said in a statement.
Walbourne said the rules around health issues need to be clear and said the Forces should work with the Rangers to identify their needs and find a way to deliver services.
“We found that many Canadian Rangers we interviewed were unaware of their health care entitlements and assumed they would be taken care of by the Canadian Armed Forces,” the report said.
“This includes Veteran Affairs benefits as well, which 89 per cent of respondents who were injured on duty did not submit a claim for. It is vital that Canadian Rangers are aware of the benefits entitled to them if they experience a service-related illness or injury.”
They may also be reluctant to report problems.
“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,” the report said. “As access to entitlements may require proof of a service relationship, the implications of failing to track illnesses and injuries are evident.
The report pointed out that Rangers live in over 200 small and isolated communities, many of them accessible only by air. In some, doctors fly in only once a month and Rangers who need medical attention are not always seen.