OTTAWA – The Canadian military is turning the page on its oft-criticized unit for ill and injured troops, including those struggling with psychological trauma, as it promises to better care for personnel as they leave the Forces.
During an elaborate military ceremony on Monday, the Joint Personnel Support Unit was effectively rolled into a new transition unit that top brass say will solve some of the Forces’ most pressing human-resources problems.
The transition unit will provide support and services to military members struggling with physical and mental injuries so they can return to work, or begin the often emotionally difficult process of leaving the Forces.
The previous support unit was set up during the war in Afghanistan for exactly that purpose, but was plagued with staff shortages, poor training and a revolving door of senior officers at the top.
The result was a litany of complaints and a perceived failure to help service member in need – particularly as the majority of those sent to the unit ended up forced out of the military because of their injuries rather than being healed.
One of those was retired corporal Lionel Desmond, an Afghan war veteran who fatally shot his mother Brenda, his wife Shanna and their 10-year-daughter Aaliyah in their rural Nova Scotia home in January 2017.
The decision to roll the previous support unit into the new transition unit amounts to a rebranding of sorts as troops will still be able to seek assistance at 24 pre-existing centres on major bases and eight satellite offices in communities.
Brig.-Gen. Mark Misener, the head of the transition unit, says “our main effort will remain taking care of our ill and injured people – so that has not changed.”
Where things are different is that the support unit will now be one part of a larger structure aimed at smoothing the jarring experience many service members face as they move between different stages of their careers.
No experience is more jarring for many military personnel than when they hang up their uniforms, particularly if the move is forced upon them because of injuries or illness.
“Being part of the Armed Forces gives us a sense of purpose,” defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance said during Monday’s ceremony. “From the moment that we join, we know we are part of a family, part of something larger than ourselves. It can be hard to even conceive of what our lives will become after the transition.”
Military commanders are promising the new transition unit will help ensure none of the roughly 10,000 service members who leave the Forces annually falls through the cracks, which has been a serious problem.
Those cracks have been blamed for the number of homeless veterans as well as some of the dozens of suicides that have rocked the military in recent years.
New websites, training and other material aimed at easing the move from military to civilian life will be rolled out right away, while a pilot project will be launched at Canadian Forces Base Borden in Ontario to look at future improvements.
“We’ve launched a number of useful tools to raise awareness and information for family members and the military folks,” Misener said after the ceremony. “All of the resources that we need to do that are in place right now. As we continue to grow our capabilities, we will add. We will add people to make sure that we can handle the additional folks that will be required.”