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Doug Jost, a 25-year veteran of the regular forces and the reserves who was contemplating bankruptcy after waiting more than six months for his first pension cheque

Francis Vachon/The Globe and Mail

Senior officials in the Canadian Armed Forces say reservists are waiting too long to receive their first pension cheques because the human resources computers and processes at National Defence are outdated and the department has been understaffed.

But they say the system is being streamlined, more administrative personnel have been being hired and the military is moving to faster and more modern technology, which should resolve the problems over the next two years.

"We are at a very important evolutionary stage in terms of the release processing side of things," Brigadier-General Mark Matheson said. "The Canadian Forces is really at a turning point in terms of modernizing its administration."

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Earlier this month, The Globe and Mail wrote about Doug Jost, a 25-year veteran of the regular forces and the reserves who was contemplating bankruptcy after waiting more than six months for his first pension cheque. Several reservists subsequently wrote to The Globe to say they were having similar difficulties.

Evan Boettger, who retired from the reserves last May after 39 years in the armed forces, said he, too, is waiting for his first pension payment and also his severance pay.

Mr. Boettger said he called the Department of National Defence to ask when he can expect to see his money. "They advised that they are currently working on the files of people who retired in July, 2014," he said.

An Auditor-General's report of 2011 examined the Reserve Force Pension Plan, which had been introduced four years earlier, and found that it had been implemented without adequate planning.

That created significant backlogs, the Auditor-General said, both in the processing of the claims of retired reservists and in determining how much each retiree would be required to pay to compensate for the years before the pension plan came into effect and they were not making contributions.

Four years after the Auditor-General's report, the backlog has been reduced, but reservists are still having problems getting their pensions.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who was a lieutenant-colonel in the reserves, said he has been aware of the problem for some time and the military is working hard to fix it.

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"This is a matter now of adjusting our resources," Mr. Sajjan said. "And I made it very clear – the Chief of Defence Staff and I are both of the same mind – that we need to make sure that we look after our men and women, not just the ones who are serving, but the ones who are transitioning out."

Gen. Matheson said multiple impediments bogged down the implementation of the pension plan for reservists.

Many of the pension calculations require personnel records that are available only on paper. Many of those records take a long time to retrieve because they are kept at bases and air wings and are maintained by other reservists who might work only a day or two every week. Some of the records have been sent off for storage at Library and Archives Canada.

Staffing shortages that were highlighted in the Auditor-General's report have been intermittently addressed with temporary workers, but only recently have new employees been hired on a permanent basis.

And there has been an increase in the number of people leaving the military after the war in Afghanistan.

"We are still wrestling with the aftermath of what happened in 2007 when the government of Canada introduced the first new pension plan in 40 years – that being the Reserve Force Pension Plan," Gen. Matheson said. "We understand, we recognize that our HR administration system for the Canadian Forces is obsolete and there is an initiative, Project Guardian, to replace that, due to be completed in 2020."

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Project Guardian is a single system that will amalgamate the administration of human resources and finances for both the regular forces and the reserves.

In addition, much of the actual work of processing the pensions will move from Defence to Public Works later this year.

Defence Department officials say any military reservist who is planning to retire should call them to let them know their release date so that the pension processing can begin as soon as possible. They also say that, if someone is in financial difficulty and is waiting a long time for payment, they should call and ask that their case be expedited.

But some reservists say calls have not produced results.

"Even if we are not living paycheque to paycheque, we make some plans," Mr. Boettger said, "and, when somebody retires, they anticipate having the money they are entitled to arrive in a more or less timely fashion – within a month or, at the extreme, three months. When that doesn't start arriving, a lot of plans that were made are difficult to achieve."

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