Defence Minister attends launch of resource about caring for military families

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Honourable Harjit Sajjan

The Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, made a special appearance at Family Medicine Forum on Wednesday to support the release of a new practice resource, Family Physicians Working With Military Families.

Produced by the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and the Canadian Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle, the document is designed to help family physicians learn about and address the challenges these families face in accessing care.

“It can be difficult for people outside of the Forces to understand the strain military life places on the families of our serving Canadian Armed Forces members,” Minister Sajjan said at the launch event, which was attended by stakeholders, guests, and media. “One of the biggest issues to deal with is the frequent moves, frequent deployments. … So they count on family physicians to make space for them in their practices.”

Minister Sajjan said long separations and the risk of injury to a military member during deployment also take a toll on family members back home.

“Members of the military can only perform well if they know their families are supported while they are away,” Minister Sajjan said. “[I am] grateful to family physicians from coast to coast to coast for stepping up and taking on the challenges confronting military families across the country.”

At the event, Dr Francine Lemire, Executive Director and CEO of the CFPC, noted data show that 44% of Canadian Armed Forces spouses find it extremely difficult to re-establish medical services after relocation. Also, 24% of military spouses do not have a family physician.

“This information is particularly important to highlight because our military families receive care through the provincial and territorial health care system, and not in the military health system,” Dr Lemire said. “It is important that we be aware of this and help educate civilian family doctors about the unique health needs and system challenges faced by military families.”

One person who brought a singular perspective to the launch was Minister Sajjan’s wife, Dr Kuljit Kaur Sajjan, who is a family physician in Vancouver and who saw her husband deployed overseas several times with the Canadian military. Dr Kaur Sajjan recalled feeling isolated during those deployments, but said her experiences help her understand some aspects of what military families need.

She said when a military family in her practice was relocated, she sent a note to a colleague in their new hometown to ask if she could add the family to her practice. The colleague agreed, which was a huge relief to her patient who required follow-up care for an ongoing health concern.

“I know family doctors may need support to have that comfort in taking on military families,” Dr Kaur Sajjan said. “So I am thrilled that we are launching a new tool that will provide information about military families and their experiences. The family physicians guide will go a long way toward providing compassionate and patient-centred care to members of military families.”

The resource document was developed by a panel of experts drawn from civilian practice and the military and veteran community, including the CFPC, Military Family Services, the National Defence Health Services Group, Veterans Affairs Canada, the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, and the Vanier Institute of the Family.

The document was included in each attendee registration package at FMF and can be accessed online at: http://www.cfpc.ca/uploadedFiles/Resources/_PDFs/Military_Family_Physician_Guide_E_Sept2016.pdf.

Honourable Harjit Sajjan FMF 2016