Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Friday, September 21, 2012

New announcement: Soldiers’ support organization mistreated its own employees, says ombudsman

Soldiers' support organization mistreated its own employees, says ombudsman

By David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen September 21, 2012 7:02 PM

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The federal government organization whose job it is to help soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders unfairly treated some of its own employees who were dealing with the same ailments, according to two reports by the Canadian Forces Ombudsman.

The two veterans, hired to help fellow soldiers dealing with mental health issues, complained to the ombudsman that they were forced from their jobs after a series of run-ins with management at the Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) program. That organization is managed jointly by the Defence Department and Veterans Affairs but the retired soldiers filed their complaints against the Canadian Forces and the DND managers they reported to.

In the case of one soldier, retired Master Cpl. Kevin Clark, the stress created by the events at OSISS led to a significant deterioration of his health, according to the report prepared by the office of Canadian Forces Ombudsman Pierre Daigle. His health and financial situation further worsened after the combat veteran's final paycheque from OSISS was clawed back. The organization had claimed that Clark, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, had taken too many sick days and was required to reimburse the government.

Daigle's office also received a third complaint against unfair management practices and procedures in OSISS but did not make any findings on that, the Citizen has learned.

The two reports are potentially damaging to the efforts by the federal government and the Canadian Forces who want to send a message they care about soldiers dealing with mental and other stress issues. OSSIS is one of organizations that is supposed to help such individuals.

The soldiers filed their complaints with the ombudsman in 2006 and 2007. The reports have yet to be made public.

Both soldiers involved say they left OSSIS after disputes with Lt.-Col. Stéphane Grenier, then the organization's program manager.

Clark, who fought in the former Yugoslavia, has questioned why, after all these years, there has been no resolution to his case.

In the case of Clark, described in Daigle's report as performing well in his job, the soldier complained OSISS management failed to take any positive action to resolve a work-related conflict and that management harassed and intimidated him and was looking to get rid of him,

As a result of the ongoing conflict in the office, Clark's mental health deteriorated and he took sick leave. After another doctor-certified sick leave, an OSSIS manager phoned him at home and left him a message pointing out he had exhausted his sick leave, according the ombudsman's report.

When Clark asked about the process of how he could resign from his job, OSSIS managers quickly responded by stating they accepted that inquiry as his resignation.

"Our investigation shows that, despite knowing Mr. Clark's mental health had deteriorated, OSISS management made no real attempt to explore how he might be assisted in maintaining his employment once it became clear he intended to resign," Daigle's report notes. "We conclude that OSISS management's actions surrounding Mr. Clark's departure from his position were procedurally unfair and did not allow Mr. Clark to avail himself of the various options available to employees of the public service."

"Mr. Clark's life changed dramatically as a result of the effect these events had on his mental health and financial affairs," the report added. "Mr. Clark told us the unexpected clawback of his final pay to cover overdrawn sick leave, coupled with his ongoing loss of employment income and benefits, created stressful financial difficulties and health issues that still persist."

Daigle recommended DND appropriately compensate Clark for the financial loss he suffered. He also recommended DND acknowledge Clark's "termination from the Public Service was processed precipitously and without affording him the consideration of options normally available to a Public Service employee in his circumstances."

In the second case, a retired combat veteran complained OSISS management had "misused allegations about his work" made by a psychologist and others, and did not give him an opportunity to respond to those allegations or even view such documents. He complained that as a result, his reputation was tarnished and he was forced to leave OSISS.

The ombudsman also found in his favour, adding that the soldier, a peer support co-ordinator, was not treated fairly by OSISS management.

The allegations made by the psychologist were later proven to be untrue and she issued a letter of apology to the veteran. But by the time that happened, the former soldier had left OSSIS.

The ombudsman recommended that DND acknowledge that retired soldier "was not provided administrative fairness in response to allegations made against him."

In an interview in late May with the Citizen, Grenier said he believes Daigle's two investigations are flawed. He said the report's conclusions are in error and that he had tried over a lengthy period to assist the employees.

Grenier said the ombudsman's investigators based their conclusions on the official memos and other administrative OSSIS paperwork generated by the two cases and did not take into account his honesty and integrity.

Grenier made similar points to Daigle's investigators, saying he didn't want to get rid of the two employees and had tried to work with them.

But the ombudsman's report stated that the investigators were able to obtain well documented information and testimony related to Clark's departure from OSISS, while Grenier's decision not to adequately document matters "left significant gaps in the official record and means there is little verifiable evidence to support his version of events."

In the case of the other soldier there was also a lack of documentary evidence to back up Grenier's claims, the investigators noted.

Grenier said he relied on an informal approach that favoured discussions with employees but involved very little formal record keeping. He noted that traditional management techniques would not have worked with these individuals who were dealing with stress disorders.

The Canadian Forces issued an email on Friday noting that it could not comment on the reports.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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