Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Support Unit for Ill, Injured Military Personnel Short Dozens of Staff

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Support Unit for Ill, Injured Military Personnel Short Dozens of Staff

Article excerpt

Military support unit short dozens of staff

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OTTAWA - Dozens of positions at the military's oft-criticized support unit for ill and injured service members, including those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and other psychological injuries, are empty.

National Defence says it's trying to fill the vacancies at the Joint Personnel Support Unit, which was short 73 staff members -- or about 17 per cent of its workforce -- in December.

It is also implementing a variety of fixes to make sure the unit can provide the best care possible to military personnel, after years of problems and complaints.

Most of the changes were recommended in a review conducted two years ago, said National Defence spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier, and are expected to be complete by this summer.

But the staffing shortages and pace of reform have prompted anger from one former JPSU member, who resigned from the unit and the military four years ago to protest similar problems.

"If they wanted to fill the positions, they could fill them tomorrow," said retired master warrant officer Barry Westholm, who served as the JPSU sergeant-major from 2009 to 2013.

"They've got the complete Canadian Armed Forces to draw people from. So they're just sitting on their hands. I don't know why they're doing that."

The problems are even more frustrating in the context of this month's murder-suicide in Nova Scotia, Westholm said, where an Afghan veteran shot three family members before turning the gun on himself.

"We discussed the potentials of what could happen if we didn't strengthen that damn unit," Westholm said. "They refused to budge an iota to give increased staff, increased training, anything."

National Defence has confirmed retired corporal Lionel Desmond was assigned to the JPSU for a year prior to his release from the military in July 2015.

Family members say he had been struggling with PTSD for years, and sought treatment without success in the days prior to killing his wife, their 10-year-old daughter, his mother and then himself.

Neither National Defence or Veterans Affairs Canada have committed to investigating the treatment Desmond received before and after his release from the military. …

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