Among life's many aggravations, getting the runaround from government employees is right up there at the top. It is so utterly frustrating to be transferred from one department to the next, where each new stop along the way brings information that contradicts what you were told at the last one.
Infuriating, right? Well, now try to imagine that this isn't about your annual tax return, but about the death of your child, sibling or spouse.
This unnecessary agony is what some parents and family of Canadian Armed Force members have to put up with in the wake of their loved one's death while in the service – a fact bluntly acknowledged in a new report from the CAF ombudsman.
"Families should not have to chase after information they have a right to access – whether the death happened during operations or not," the report concludes. "They should be assisted in their efforts to obtain it."
The report focused on military deaths that don't occur during active deployment. It was prompted in part by cases such as that of Private Thomas Welch, who took his own life in 2004, three months after returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Thirteen years later, the family of Pte. Welch is still waiting for the military to tell them what happened.
The ombudsman found that the CAF's policies for sharing information with families in the wake of a death are inconsistent. The various personnel involved in the "casualty process," as the military calls it, aren't aware of each other's efforts, with the result that bereaved families get "inconsistent information" – in other words, the runaround.
This is unacceptable. Canadians can tolerate slow and inconsistent service from the Canada Revenue Agency at tax time, but the idea that the support for bereaved military families is anything less than perfect should be utterly appalling to them.
There is a good quote in the ombudsman's report about helping the families of soldiers who are killed: "You can't make it better [for the family], but you can definitely make it worse."
The Armed Forces needs to change its culture on this score. It should be a point of pride that, when things are at their worst for the family of a service member, the military is at its best.