National Defence to overhaul support units for wounded after review

OTTAWA -- National Defence is embarking on an overhaul of its oft-maligned support units for ill and injured soldiers, The Canadian Press has learned.

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The re-organization was one of three recommendations made in an internal review of the Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU) system, which was delivered last September to the country's top commander, Gen. Jonathan Vance.

The assessment team, led by Brig.-Gen. David Anderson, identified myriad problems with the system, which is supposed to help physically and mentally wounded soldiers heal and return to their units -- or prepare for medical release.

His conclusions echoed earlier assessments by the Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman in 2013 and that of the defence department's chief of review services, which studied the problems in 2015.

Soldiers have complained that the JPSUs and their subordinate Integrated Personnel Support Centres are chronically under-staffed, but there's also concern that those transferred into the organization lose the social support of their home combat units, frustrating both the unit and the soldiers.

Word of the planned overhaul was apparently poorly communicated and caused anxiety Thursday among a number units, most notably at Garrison Petawawa, Ont.

The reorganization, called the "hybrid option" in Anderson's report, puts the support centres under the command of individual formations and brigades.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan confirmed the reorganization is about to begin, but wouldn't discuss specifics, other than to say no centres would close and that caring for the wounded would remain a top priority.

"We'll be enhancing the capabilities because they do provide an important resource for our troops," Sajjan said.

A spokeswoman for National Defence said the restructuring of the administration will be ongoing and a final decision on how the new system will work has not been made.

"The whole point of the JPSU review is to improve service to soldiers who need it -- that is our bottom line," said Maj. Holly-Anne Brown.

Anderson's report, a copy of which was obtained by CP, said there are approximately 1,400 clients in the system and nearly 50 of the existing 297 staff positions at the centres are vacant.

On one base of 8,000 personnel, there is only one person manning the support centre where 160 injured soldiers are posted, the assessment noted.

Because the centres operate under a separate structure, the review team said base commanders often "hold a negative view of the JPSU structure, based primarily on their lack of understanding of the function and purpose of the JPSU."

Part of the reorganization is meant to address that, but the military is also fighting an uphill battle of optics among the troops it's trying to help.

"Derogatory terms are used by clients themselves to describe other clients who they perceive as being lazy or playing the system," said the report.

The review also recommends renaming the units to counter the stigma they currently carry.



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