Leaving the Canadian Armed Forces

The Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) offer a variety of programs and services to support CAF members as they prepare to leave the military. Some of these programs and services are designed specifically for members who are leaving for medical reasons, while others apply to all members.

Eventually, every military member leaves the CAF. The vast majority of personnel who leave do so for reasons other than medical release. Many go on to even greater things. This happens because of the skills that military personnel acquire during their service, such as resiliency and coping, as well as the programs, benefits, and assistance provided by the CAF.

Recognizing that there is room for improvement in the existing system, DND, the CAF, and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) have been collaborating on a number of projects to improve support for CAF personnel, veterans, and their families. These include streamlining the release and pension administration processes, providing second career assistance, improving mental health and social support services, and making it easier for families to meet the challenges of military life, and those that can come after service.

Support for All Members

Pension and Benefits

There are numerous financial programs available to CAF members who are releasing from the military. CAF pension plans deliver generous retirement and survivor benefits. The Canadian Forces Personnel Assistance Fund can make loans and grants available to those in financial distress. Military members have access to severance pay and leave cash-out benefits. Service Income Security Insurance Plan Financial Services (SISIP FS), a division of the CAF Personnel and Family Support Services since 1969, offers financial planning and financial counselling services, life insurance, and long term disability to serving and former CAF members and their families.

Recent improvements to CAF benefits include faster processing of members’ retirement benefits, such as severance pay and pension. Retired members are now receiving their first pension cheque within 45 days of release, or receipt of documentation, whichever occurs last. A backlog of files has been greatly reduced, and is expected to be cleared by fall 2017. The CAF release process is also being improved so that Reserve Force personnel are not waiting longer than Regular Force personnel, and wait times overall are being reduced.

Second Career Assistance

Every year, several thousand highly trained military personnel transition out of the CAF, offering new employers a unique set of skills and knowledge gained from their service to the country. DND and the CAF assist members in finding a second career by communicating with employers and industry groups, and educating them on the benefits of hiring former military members. Personnel who are leaving the military are connected with potential civilian employers and are given access to up to six months of continuing education, as well as vocational rehabilitation and on-the-job training opportunities.

To further assist CAF members with their transition to civilian life, the Veterans Hiring Act (Bill C-27), which came into force on July 1, 2015, provides eligible serving and former CAF members increased access to federal public service job opportunities. Also, in December 2016, the CAF and VAC developed a Joint Employment Strategy which will be implemented in the coming months, to strengthen employment programs for departing CAF members.

Support for Families

The CAF has long acknowledged the important role that families play in operational readiness, and its moral obligation to support them. With this understanding, the Military Family Services Program exists to serve the needs of CAF personnel and their families. Through their programs and services, including counselling and support groups, and referrals to local civilian resources, Military Family Resource Centres (MFRCs) help families manage the challenges of military life. It was announced in Budget 2017 that the Veteran Family Program would give medically released veterans and their families access to the programs and services at MFRCs.

Further, DND and the CAF have undertaken a number of initiatives to improve military families’ access to provincial health care, which will become a member’s health care provider once they have released. They have negotiated with the provinces and territories to waive the 90-day wait time for accessing provincial health coverage when families relocate, and physicians practising at Loblaws grocery store locations have been matched with military families in need of a family doctor.

Support for Members Leaving for Medical Reasons

In addition to the information above, the CAF provides a number of programs and services to members who are releasing from the military for medical reasons. These include rehabilitation programs that allow a focus on recovery, as well as specialized resources to help these military personnel make a successful transition to civilian life.

The Joint Personnel Support Unit

The Joint Personnel Support Unit is a CAF unit dedicated to support for ill and injured military personnel and their families. CAF members who become ill or injured may be posted to one of the JPSU’s 24 Integrated Personnel Support Centres (IPSCs) or seven satellite sites across the country during their recovery. The JPSU is committed to supporting CAF members’ return to active duty; when a return to duty is not expected, the focus is placed on developing a successful transition plan to help members as they exit the military.

The JPSU’s key services include the following:

The return to work program;

  • Coordination with Canadian Forces Health Services Group (CFHS) to provide physical rehabilitation, mental health, and peer support programs, in addition to case management by a CAF nurse;
  • Financial planning and financial counselling services through SISIP FS;
  • Liaison with Military Family Resource Centres, local base representatives and local unit Commanding Officers;
  • Transition planning and referral services with VAC and provincial health care partners; and
  • Advocacy services, to ensure members and their families are receiving the appropriate support and benefits for their situation.

Plans to improve the JPSU are underway. More staff are being assigned to leadership and administrative support positions in the organization. As of December 2015, a member working at a location away from their home – in military terms, on an Imposed Restriction (IR) posting – is being posted to the IPSC nearest their home, to take advantage of the family and social support system in their community. IPSCs, which are located on bases and wings, are being more strongly connected with the local chains of command and with the appropriate Environmental Command (Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Air Force), with the goal of creating more understanding, and ultimately better care. 

Mental Health Support

Perhaps most critical for the transition process, CAF members are given mental health and resilience training from the start of their career, including before and after deployment on operations. The Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) program prepares military personnel to meet the demands and responsibilities of each stage of their career. CAF personnel are therefore well prepared to deal with change, whenever and however this may occur.

Recognizing that departure from the CAF may cause stress for some personnel, DND and VAC have been working to strengthen mental health services for members who are leaving for medical reasons. Co-locating VAC and CFHS staff at IPSCs is being considered, along with the creation of a joint centre of excellence in mental health and PTSD. Measures are being put in place to ensure that a member’s access to prescriptions is not interrupted when they leave the care of CFHS for the provincial health care system. A joint DND-VAC suicide prevention strategy in development will ensure that critical needs do not go unanswered. The CAF’s Military Family Services Program, VAC, and the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre have collaborated on a new online Caregiver Program, and an online Operational Stress Injury resource for caregivers and families.

The VAC-DND Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) program provides peer-based support to those suffering with operational stress injuries, and their families. The CAF Member Assistance Program and the VAC Assistance Service provide serving members and veterans with counselling 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (up to eight free counselling sessions per family, with referrals for those who require longer assistance).

Looking Forward

DND and the CAF are continually seeking ways to better support military personnel from the time they join the Forces through to the end of their military career. To this end, performance measurement has been introduced as a component of transition services to continuously identify what is working well, as well as areas for improvement. Satisfaction with the process of leaving the CAF is being gauged through exit surveys and the Your Say survey. A number of research activities are underway to better understand CAF members’, veterans’ and their families’ experiences during the transition from military to civilian life, as well as afterward. Through these initiatives, the impact of military life on members and families, and the impact of leaving military life behind, will be measured in order to continuously improve programs and services.

Additional sources of information and support

  • CAF Health Services Clinics
  • Canadian Forces Member Assistance Program (CFMAP) 1-800-268-7708
  • Canadian Forces Return to Work (CF RTW) 1-800-883-6094
  • Director Canadian Forces Pension Services 1-800-267-0325 or 613-971-6012
  • Director Casualty Support Management (DCSM) 1-800-883-6094
  • Family Information Line
    • 1-800-866-4546 (Toll-free in North America)
    • 1-613-995-5234 (Collect calls accepted)
  • Government of Canada Pension Centre 1-800-267-0325
  • Helping Others by Providing Empathy (HOPE) 1-800-883-6094
  • Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) 1-800-883-6094
  • SISIP Financial Services (SISIP FS) 1-800-267-6681
  • Transition Assistance Program (TAP) 1-800-883-6094
  • Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) 1-866-522-2122

Contact information for this backgrounder

  • Media Relations
    Department of National Defence
    Phone: 613-996-2353
    Toll-Free: 1-866-377-0811
    Email: mlo-blm@forces.gc.ca
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