Archive for December, 2009

DAVID PUGLIESE OTTAWA CITIZEN JOURNALIST ARTICLE: PAY PROBLEMS FOR AFGHAN BOUND CANADIAN TROOPS

December 17, 2009

Foulup leaves troops out pay, benefits

‘Administrative error’ to blame: National Defence

By David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen

December 8, 2009

Troops now training at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa for a mission to Afghanistan next year are in the midst of a battle against the military bureaucracy over pay and health benefits.

It’s the second time in less than eight months that reserve soldiers assigned to the Afghan mission have run into pay problems. In February, soldiers contacted the Citizen after their pay was cut off while they fought in Afghanistan.

This time, soldiers say they have lost the extra pay they are entitled to because of a bureaucratic screw-up. According to the soldiers, the pay problems are due to a backlog in processing paperwork and an inadequate pay system at National Defence headquarters in Ottawa.

As well, there are problems with health coverage for families of the part-time soldiers.

“A caveat to the fact that they aren’t inputted into the regular force pay system is that their families (eligible dependents) at home are not eligible for medical coverage under the Public Service Health Care Plan (PSHCP),” one individual wrote to the Citizen, complaining about the problem.

“Soldiers who once had coverage under their previous civilian careers are left with the medical expenses for their children and spouses until their contracts are processed.” About 300 reservists training at CFB Petawawa will head to Afghanistan in the spring.

Army spokesman Lt.-Col. Jay Janzen confirmed there are problems with pay. “The army is aware of pay issues affecting some reservists conducting pre-deployment training at Petawawa and we’re working quickly to address them,” he said.

Janzen said the soldiers are receiving their basic pay, but the problem centres around incentive pay they would receive. That problem is “due to an administrative error.”

Janzen didn’t have specific numbers affected, but added it is believed to be fewer than 100 reservists. He said that once the problem is sorted out, the soldiers would receive the money owed. A military source said the health-care issue will also be taken care of once the paperwork goes through for the reservists and they are assigned to the full-time regular force.

It’s not the first time there have been pay problems for part-time soldiers. From December 2008 to February of this year, some reserve soldiers fighting in Afghanistan said they had their pay cut off because their contracts with the army expired while they were serving overseas.

The troops continued to serve, but some told the Citizen they were worried they would not be covered by health insurance and other benefits if they were injured in battle.

At the time, the army confirmed in an e-mail that there had been problems, but it claimed that “at no time were the members’ pay and benefits at risk.”

The e-mail also added that emergency financial assistance was offered to anyone who needed it while the error was being fixed.

In 2006, former Canadian Forces Ombudsman Yves Côté launched an investigation into what he warned was a lack of services and inconsistent care available to members of the reserves when they are injured on overseas missions or during training at home. The investigation, completed in April, revealed numerous problems for reservists injured in the course of duty to Canada and subsequently required health care.

DAVID PUGLIESE OTTAWA CITIZEN CANADIAN TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN HIT BY PAY PROBLEMS

December 9, 2009

Red tape ties up paycheques for reservists fighting in Afghanistan; Soldiers whose contracts expired overseas also worried about health coverage, benefits

The Ottawa Citizen

Feb 14 2009

By David Pugliese

The Ottawa Citizen

Some reserve soldiers fighting in Afghanistan have had their pay cut off because their contracts with the army expired while they were serving overseas.

The troops continue to serve, but some have told the Citizen they are worried they will not be covered by health insurance and other benefits if they are injured in battle.

Military staff in Afghanistan have told the reservists they can sort out the problems once they return to their home units in Canada. However, the soldiers are worried they will face an uphill battle with the military bureaucracy for entitlements such as leave and benefits. They are also concerned that if they are injured overseas, their families will have to fight the bureaucracy for assistance.

At the heart of the problem are the contracts the part-time soldiers have signed with the military.

The contracts, for temporary full-time employment for either a six-month or nine-month period, are supposed to be monitored so they do not expire while a reservist is in the middle of a tour in Afghanistan.

But that hasn’t happened in some cases and as contracts expired, the pay for troops was cut off.

It is not clear how many reservists are in that predicament. It is estimated that about 20 per cent of Canada’s military force assigned to Afghanistan is drawn from reserve units.

According to soldiers in Kandahar, the head of the army, Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, has directed that all of the contracts in question be extended to cover the rest of a soldier’s tour. However, the response in Kandahar has been slow and some troops are still having problems, these soldiers say.

The army declined to provide a spokesman to discuss the issue.

However, an e-mail sent from the army confirmed that there have been problems, but it claimed that “at no time were the members’ pay and benefits at risk.”

According to the e-mail, when the issue was first identified in December, immediate action was taken to extend the contracts of the reservists in question.

There have been some “administrative” delays in processing the extensions for all the soldiers, the e-mail acknowledged.

“There were some disruptions in January and February pay for some, but the administrative supervisor in-theatre was aware of this and was able to provide emergency financial assistance to anyone who needed it while the error was being fixed,” the e-mail said, adding, “All outstanding pay issues have now been dealt with.”

In the past, the Canadian Forces ombudsman’s office has raised concerns that reservists, particularly those who have been injured in Afghanistan, were falling through the cracks of the military bureaucracy.

In 2006, then-ombudsman Yves Côté launched an investigation into what he warned was a lack of services and inconsistent care available to members of the reserves when they are injured on overseas missions or during training at home.

The investigation, which was completed in April, revealed numerous problems for reservists who were injured in the course of their duty to Canada and subsequently required health care.

The federal government has promised to take care of injured reservists.

DAVID PUGLIESE OTTAWA CITIZEN COMMENTARY WHY IS THE JOINT SUPPORT SHIP DELAYED?

December 6, 2009

By David Pugliese

Ottawa Citizen journalist

The Joint Support Ship project still sits idle waiting for the Harper government to move ahead on a new shipbuilding policy.

When will that be happening?

There was talk that the policy would be ready by the end of this year but that won’t take place. Some in industry expect a policy by the spring, unless a federal election gets in the way. If that happens, then all bets are off.

Work on a new shipbuilding policy was launched with great fanfare in the summer, with meetings between government and  industry representatives. But since then, the government has been focused on other issues.

The Canadian Navy, however, has signaled that it is ready to move ahead on JSS.

“We’re pretty much ready to be talking to the [defense] minister about what we need to do to advance the JSS so we’re ready to go,” Vice Admiral Dean McFadden told Defence Watch several months ago. “One thing that has caused us to take a bit of a pause in progressing that as an independent program is what I think is a superb initiative to try and develop a new and strategic relationship between government and industry in how this country goes about building ships.”

“That initiative gained a great deal of momentum in the summer,” McFadden added. “There was a forum held in Ottawa in July where I think we are coming to the fundamental issue — we want to stop doing a boom-and-bust building cycle in this country.”

And so it stands.

No Cabinet approval on a shipbuilding policy. Then no movement on JSS.

The big question in the maritime world is focused on when JSS will be delivered (although the more pessimistic ask, “Will it ever be delivered?”).

The project, before it ran into trouble, called for a contract to be awarded last year with the first vessel delivered in 2012.

But Dan Ross, the Defence Department’s Assistant Deputy Minister for Materiel, acknowledged the obvious to a Senate defence committee when he informed them that the delivery schedule won’t be met. But he still told the Senate committee (May 25) that he expected a request for proposals for the ships to be issued to industry in 2010. It could take another year to get to a contract and from there another four to five years to complete the ship, he noted.

That would mean the first ship would be delivered around 2016.

But even with that schedule Ross would not commit to the program delivering three Joint Support Ships at the end of the day. “I do not know if anyone here is prepared to state what the outcome will be,” he told the committee.

The JSS was originally announced in 2004 by the Martin government but the focus on Afghanistan diverted DND’s attention to equipment issues related to that war. As a result, JSS went on to the backburner for a bit. It did eventually proceed, only to derail in August 2008 after industry failed to meet the government’s specifications within the allotted budget.

The three JSS would replace the existing 40-year-old plus supply vessels which haul fuel and ammunition for naval task groups at sea. The ships would also provide support to the Canadian Army and special forces, carrying troops, vehicles, helicopters, ammunition and a hospital, as well as act as a command center for ground forces sent ashore.

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news or articles by David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

DAVID PUGLIESE OTTAWA CITIZEN ARTICLE NORWAY MOVES AHEAD WITH JOINT STRIKE FIGHTER WHILE CANADA STILL ON FENCE

December 5, 2009

BY DAVID PUGLIESE

Ottawa Citizen

Last year Norway committed to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as its new future multi-role fighter but Canada is still no closer to a decision.

At the same time Denmark has decided to wait until next year before deciding on what future aircraft to purchase. Like the Canadian Air Force, it is considering the Boeing F-18 Super Hornet as well as the Gripen.

Canada’s Defence Department continues to insist that no decision has been made on what aircraft which become Canada’s next generation fighter, nor the procurement strategy that DND will follow.

“The Department of National Defence anticipates that the Next Generation Fighter Capability project will be advanced to government in due course,” DND spokeswoman Annie Arcand has told Defense Watch several times.

But DND has not defined what “due course” means and that same statement has been used by the department for at least the last six months.

Aerospace industry sources say a plan to sole source a Canadian purchase of JSF is no longer on the table but that the Harper government is also no closer to announcing that a competition will be held.

Some Air Force officers worry that any competition to proceed on the replacement for the CF-18 would be delayed by a federal election or at least threats of a federal election. No government wants to be announcing a multi-billion project to buy new fighter jets when the public is focused on health care, unemployment and other concerns, they noted.

The Canadian Air Force’s timetable to obtain a Next Generation Fighter in time for replacement of the CF-18 fleet by 2015/2016 requires a competition to be run no later than next year, according to Air Force documents obtained by Defence Watch.

According to a Sept. 25, 2008 Air Force briefing on the Next Generation Fighter Capability, the timetable for the purchase calls for a competition to be run next year and a contract with the winning aircraft manufacturer to be signed by 2012.

According to the timetable obtained by Defence Watch, initial deliveries of the Next Generation Fighter would take place in 2015/2016 with the initial operating capability in 2018, according to the timetable. Full operating capability would be achieved by 2023.

In May 2008, the Canadian government announced as part of the Canada First Defence Strategy it intended to replace the CF-18 fleet with a Next Generation Fighter Capability. Since that time the Department of National Defence has investigated various options to deliver that capability, although it notes that deliveries of the new aircraft would start in 2017.

In contrast to the delays in Canada on how to proceed, Norway last year moved ahead of schedule on its JSF decision.

Norwegian Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen released a statement in November 2008 that the JSF was “the only candidate” that met the country’s operational requirements. She noted that JSF manufacturer offered the aircraft at a “lower price than the Gripen NG.”

Like Canada, Norway formed an organization –the Project Future Combat Aircraft Capability Committee — which selected the winning candidate. Unlike Canada, however, the work of that committee was supervised by independent and external auditors.

No specific details on how much the JSF will cost Norway has yet been released but defence analysts are indicating it will cost about $52 million U.S. per plane.

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news or articles by David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/


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