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Archived - Medical Releases: Universality of Service and Support to Our ill and Injured

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Military service requires that at all times all personnel must be capable of performing a broad range of military tasks, such as common defence and security duties, in addition to the specific duties associated with their military occupations such as pharmacist, logistics officer or pilot.

This is known as the Universality of Service policy. It is also known as the “soldier first” principle, categorizing the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as members of the profession of arms first, and by their specific function, second. Every member, regardless of military occupation, must meet the Universality of Service standards in order to remain in the CAF.

The Universality of Service standards

All CAF personnel must be able to complete a number of fundamental military tasks, including:

  • fire and maintain a personal weapon;
  • conduct nuclear, biological, and chemical drills;
  • fight fires;
  • administer first aid, including CPR;
  • communicate using a radio; and
  • prepare written military correspondence.

In addition, CAF personnel are liable to be deployed anywhere in the world with little or no advance warning. To be considered deployable, CAF personnel must be able to:

  • deploy on short notice to any geographical location, in any climate;
  • work irregular or prolonged hours;
  • function effectively on irregular or missed meals;
  • travel as a passenger in any mode of transportation;
  • perform under physical and mental stress; and
  • perform with minimal medical support.

Further, because strength and endurance could mean the difference between success and failure in a military operation, CAF personnel must be physically fit. All CAF personnel are required to undergo an annual evaluation where they must meet a minimum physical fitness standard. The test is designed to assess, in addition to the fitness of individual members, their ability to perform a number of physical tasks essential to the performance of military service.

The legal basis

Universality of Service has existed since at least 1985. It is imposed by section 33(1) of the National Defence Act, which states that all Regular Force members are “at all times liable to perform any lawful duty.” This legislative imperative means that a member who cannot “at all times … perform any lawful duty” may not serve in the Regular Force except during a limited period of recovery from injury or illness. This is to allow for transition back into military service for those whose impairment is only temporary, or out of the military and into civilian life for those permanently unable to meet the liability imposed by the Act.

Section 33(2) of the National Defence Act states that Reserve Force members “may be called out on service to perform any lawful duty other than training at such times and in such manner as any regulations or otherwise are prescribed by the Governor in Council.”  Since the Primary Reserve is given the role of directly supporting the Regular Force, operational effectiveness requires these Reservists to meet the same Universality of Service standards as their Regular Force counterparts.

Medical release

The CAF remain committed to supporting ill and injured personnel as they progress through recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration under a comprehensive approach, Caring for our Own. The CAF, however, are also required to take the measures necessary to maintain the capacity to field a prepared and operationally effective military force capable of performing designated tasks.

Ill and injured personnel are given the time and care they need to recover and rehabilitate before any administrative action is taken with regard to their careers. Depending on the type of injury or illness, this time period can range from a couple of months to a few years.Once the member's medical condition is stable, a medical assessment is conducted which may identify tasks the member can no longer perform. If permanent medical employment limitations are required, these will be subsequently reviewed by the Directorate of Medical Policy Standards. Members who are assigned a permanent medical employment limitation will have their case reviewed by either the Director of Military Career Administration (DMCA) or their unit Commanding Officer, depending on the nature of the limitation, to determine whether or not the individual can still comply with the fundamental requirements of military service as described by Universality of Service. The individual will fall into one of the following categories:

a. Meets Universality of Service: those with minor limitations and who meet Universality of Service standards will return to full service in their previous, or in some cases another, military occupation;

b. Not in compliance with Universality of Service - Employable: those members who have permanent limitations that do not comply with the Universality of Service principles, but who are employable in some capacity and wish to remain in the CAF, may be retained for up to three years. This transitional period of service will only be engaged if a personnel shortage exists in the member’s military occupation, or there is a requirement for the member’s particular skill set. Otherwise, the member will be transitioned to civilian life and will be offered the opportunity to initiate a vocational rehabilitation program. The member can also receive support to transition to other career options, including consideration for possible employment within the Cadet Organizations and Administrative and Training Service and the Canadian Rangers if desired.

In preparation for release, CAF members are entitled to the Second Career Assistance Network and transition seminars for medical releases. These seminars provide information on career transition services and other benefits and services available through various CAF agencies, through Service Income Security Insurance Plan – Long Term Disability, and from Veterans Affairs Canada, from which support could span from six months to three years to ensure a smooth transition into civilian life;

c. Not in compliance with Universality of Service - Severely ill or injured: those members who have permanent limitations that do not comply with Universality of Service principles, and who are severely ill or injured with complex career transition needs, may be retained in the CAF for a period of transition up to three years from the time their agreed transition plan is finalized and a release instruction issued. They will receive support to transition to other career options including consideration for employment within the Cadet Organizations and Administrative and Training Service and the Canadian Rangers if desired.

These members work one-on-one with a multidisciplinary transition team to develop a tailored and flexible plan that features comprehensive health care, social and career transition support.  In preparation for release, the member is entitled to a range of transition services and benefits available through various CAF agencies, through Service Income Security Insurance Plan – Long Term Disability, and from Veterans Affairs Canada.

This process is described in more detail below.

Regular Force and Primary Reserve members who have a medical condition that precludes their return to normal duty in a timely manner may be posted to the Joint Personnel Support Unit and assigned to one of its Integrated Personnel Support Centres. The Integrated Personnel Support Centre supports both Regular Force and Reserve Force ill or injured personnel who are currently serving or in the process of a medical release, and serves walk-in clients in addition to those with longer-term medical issues. It provides integrated CAF and Veterans Affairs Canada service for ill or injured CAF personnel and former members and their families by facilitating access to care and support while personnel reintegrate into military life or transition to civilian life.

As Table A demonstrates, about 1000 Regular Force personnel have been medically released in each of the past five years for reasons ranging from illness, off-duty injury, training or employment issues, to severe injuries sustained during operations. 

Medical Releases , 2008-2013



Total Strength

Medical Releases





































































Severely ill and injured personnel

On March 25, 2011, the Minister of National Defence announced a new career transition support policy for severely ill or injured CAF members who can no longer serve in the CAF. For each of these individuals the CAF and the member develop a tailored and flexible plan that features comprehensive health care, and social and career transition support over a period of up to three years. A transition plan is not developed until the member’s medical condition is stable which can take anywhere from several months to more than a year. The policy applies to full-time personnel, regardless of whether or not the illness or injury is attributable to service, and to part-time personnel whose need for medical care is attributable to the performance of duty. The criteria used to determine the length of the transition period, due to the variety and complexity of transition needs, includes severity of the injury or illness, psycho-social factors and functional limitations. An assessment of the transition complexity is conducted on an individual basis by an interdisciplinary team prior to the initiation of the administrative review process. Based on the results of the individualized assessment, the interdisciplinary team and the member together develop an integrated and tailored transition plan including individualized goals and projected timelines. Progress in achieving the transition plan goals is jointly monitored by the CAF member’s nurse case manager and Integrated Personnel Support Centre staff.

Severely ill or injured personnel with complex career transition needs benefit from more time to heal, adjust, and prepare for the future while still remaining members of the CAF. This policy is designed to provide individualized assistance to those who need it the most and to extend their access to flexible and comprehensive CAF health care and social support while they prepare for a new chapter in their life.

Support programs

The CAF and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) partner at many levels to support ill and injured military personnel and their families. When a member faces medical release, the CAF and VAC work closely together with members and their families to establish a comprehensive, individualized case plan to meet their needs. VAC has the legislated mandate to provide care and support for military personnel following their release from the CAF. Together, both organizations, along with other service partners, offer many benefits and services to assist with a successful transition to civilian life such as comprehensive rehabilitation, vocational services, health care, financial benefits and mental health support.

1. Financial support
In addition to the support programs available to ill and injured members throughout their recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration, certain disability benefits are available through a number of legislative acts, regulations and agreements. The administration of these benefits is shared by the Department of National Defence (DND) and by other federal government agencies such as Veterans Affairs Canada. More information is available in the Caring For Our Own Compensation and Benefits Fact Sheet.

In a 2013 Veterans Ombudsman report, the Ombudsman noted that a seriously injured, medically released 24-year-old Canadian Armed Forces member will receive $2 million dollars up to age 65 and then up to $2 700 each month thereafter.

CAF personnel can also receive assistance through various funds such as Military Families Fund, Military Casualty Support Foundation, Service Income Security Insurance Plan Grant or Loan, Royal Canadian Legion Poppy Fund, Military Family Resource Centre Fund, Royal Canadian Navy Benevolent Fund, Unit Funds – Canteen/Chaplains, The Canadian Hero Fund, Wounded Warriors Fund and VAC’s Trust, Assistance and Emergency Funds.

2. Vocational support
The Transition Program consists of a wide variety of initiatives and is focused on preparing members for a second career. This process is facilitated by connecting with employers and industry and educating them on the benefits of hiring former military members. The Transition Program also connects releasing military members with potential civilian employers, continuing education, vocational training, entrepreneurial opportunities, and other second career possibilities. Additionally, it offers tailored support for those CAF members releasing for medical reasons. The Transition Program works collaboratively with the following stakeholders:

  • CAF Personnel Selection Officers, via the Second Career Assistance Network services;
  • CAF Integrated Personnel Support Centres;  
  • Service Income Security Insurance Program Financial Services;
  • Veterans Affairs Canada; and
  • Not-for-profit organizations and external stakeholders, within the Military Employment Transition portal and associated supports.

For more information, please visit the Canadian Armed Forces Transition Program backgrounder.

3. Additional support

  • The CAF Member Assistance Program provides external, short-term counselling to Regular Force personnel and their families, and to some Reserve Force personnel who are seeking assistance outside military health services. The program is civilian-based in that it uses professional counsellors provided by Health Canada’s Employee Assistance Services.
  • Former CAF personnel and their families have access to the Veterans Affairs Canada Assistance Service, a voluntary and confidential counselling service delivered through a nation-wide team of professional counsellors and accessed initially through a toll-free line. The service, which provides access to professional counselling 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, is delivered by Health Canada on Veterans Affairs Canada’s behalf. The Veterans Affairs Canada Assistance Service is similar to the Canadian Armed Forces Members Assistance Program.
  • The Operational Stress Injury Social Support program provides peer support to military personnel, veterans and their families affected by operational stress injuries which include post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to one-on-one peer support, Operational Stress Injury Social Support also provides group support and outreach sessions to reduce the stigma attached to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and promote a wellness model and treatment adherence. A joint CAF-Veterans Affairs Canada initiative, this program was founded by a group of CAF veterans.
  • The Injured Soldier Network enhances the functional readiness of injured and ill CAF personnel by focusing on peer support strategies through which they can meet the requirements of Universality of Service and develop an independent and autonomous lifestyle.

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