Author Topic: Diligent reservist gets help from ombudsman for pension queries  (Read 1414 times)

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Diligent reservist gets help from ombudsman for pension queries

By Kevin Woodhouse

A recent report by the Auditor General noted that Canada’s military reservists have been short-changed when it comes to receiving their pensions, and details how it can take up to seven years for reservists to get the correct information for their retirement after dutifully serving their country.

Four years ago, the Canadian Armed Forces extended the opportunity for military reserve personnel to be part of a pension plan, but the onus was put on reservists to provide their own documentation and work record, a challenge for many long-service reservists.

Pierrefonds resident Victor Knowlton was actively involved for many years, retiring two years ago after 29 years of service. In March 2007, Knowlton received a letter stating he would be part of the pension plan if he met the requirements.

“Through the Access to Information Act, I was able to obtain my complete service record dating back to 1963,” Knowlton told The Suburban.

Now, National Defence offers reservists a formula and online calculator to use to determine their hours of past service. When Knowlton started his own process four years ago, he had to do all of the data collection on his own.  The retired major created a spreadsheet that he in turn offered to other reservists.

“You had to check the number of days you served every year and if you couldn’t find the records, then the government offered you 90 days of service,” Knowlton said. “You also had to determine your paid rank at the time, and note any differences in pay rates or raises.”

Knowlton estimates he spent three full working days combing over the details of his service. What made the research even more difficult, says Knowlton, was that the Canadian Armed Forces had no pay records available anywhere for the period of the 1960s.

In 2009, Knowlton’s file was completed and he sent in all of his pertinent data. “The information is given four different reliability checks, but I ended up getting nowhere fast,” adds Knowlton.

Since reservists were not eligible for the military pension plan prior to 2007, no deductions had ever been made, so many had to buy back their pensionable days of service.

Knowlton was frustrated with the lack of progress, so he contacted the Office of the Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman last September. Knowlton was pleased with the efforts of the office, and expects to have his pension squared away by this fall.

When asked what advice he would give reservists who find themselves in a similar situation, Knowlton said “to keep at it, and if you have a problem, go to the ombudsman. Don’t give up, you have to just keep plugging away.”

According to Michelle Laliberté, communications advisor in the Office of the Ombudsman for National Defence and Canadian Forces, “anyone contacting our office for information or assistance should expect to get a call back within 24-28 hours. After the initial contact — and provided their complaint falls within our mandate — the case will be assigned either to one of our complaint resolution analysts or one of the members of the investigative team.”

One hundred and eighty-one reservists made requests to the ombudsman’s offices in 2007-2008, 128 the year after, 165 last year and to date, 174 have sought help.

Interim Auditor General John Wiersema noted after the release of his report June 8 that “the Reserve Force Pension Plan had been under discussion and development for more than 10 years, yet the Department of National Defence dropped the ball. As a result, many reservists could face delays of seven years or longer to find out what their pension benefits will be.”
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