By David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen October 22, 2012 8:21 PM
The Defence Department has sent a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder a bill for $427.97 for two extra days of sick leave he took in 2006, along with a threat of taking him to court if he doesn't pay up by Nov. 15.
The letter for retired master corporal Kevin Clark arrived Monday at his father's home near Oromocto, New Brunswick. Clark had been there for two weeks taking care of his mother who is in hospital.
The Canadian Forces Ombudsman recently determined that Clark, a combat veteran, had been mistreated by DND officials and officers after he was forced from his job counseling soldiers with post-traumatic stress. After a five-year investigation Ombudsman Pierre Daigle recommended the Canadian Forces and DND apologize and help Clark, who himself suffers from PTSD. DND and the Canadian Forces have refused.
The new development in Clark's story comes as Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Steven Blaney, Minister of Veteran's Affairs, joined military leaders in Ottawa to praise how they treat soldiers with mental health issues.
"All of us, every Canadian Forces' officer, soldier, sailor, airman and airwoman, have a duty to make sure those facing mental health challenges get the help they need," General Walter Natynczyk said in a statement.
Clark said he was taken aback by the DND letter. "Right now I'm trying to find a nursing home to put my mother in," he explained. "Talk about getting kicked when you're down."
Clark tried twice on Monday to call the DND official who mailed the letter but he only got voice mail. The Citizen also phoned the official whose name is on the letter but also received voicemail.
In an email Monday sent in response to the Citizen's questions about this latest development, the Defence Department stated "senior leadership is hearing about this allegation for the first time. We take it seriously and we are investigating."
Clark said he would pay the DND the money because he can't take the risk his credit rating will be adversely affected. "I've built up my credit rating to a good standing so I can't afford for them to destroy it," he added.
In two separate reports, Daigle determined that managers from the Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) program, the organization whose job is to help soldiers suffering from mental-health issues, unfairly treated Clark and another soldier, both of whom are who are dealing with PTSD.
In a letter sent several months ago, Rear Admiral Andrew Smith, chief of military personnel, informed Daigle that the Canadian Forces rejected the findings and that the ombudsman had no jurisdiction to even look into the complaints from the two combat veterans.
Clark, who developed PTSD after coming to the aid of a fellow soldier shot by a Bosnian sniper in 1994, isn't surprised by the reaction from the Canadian Forces. The former master corporal, who joined the military at 18, says such dismissive attitudes towards stress disorders are common in the Canadian Forces.
Ombudsman staff privately acknowledge the 47-year-old Clark has been put through the ringer by the Canadian Forces. When officers originally found out he was suffering from PTSD they tried to boot the soldier out of the military, even though he had just two months to go before he could collect his pension for 20-years of service. They backed off on that and Clark found his way into OSISS as a counselor to help fellow soldiers dealing with PTSD, eventually working out of offices on Coventry Road.
Clark and the other soldier complained to Daigle they were forced from their jobs after a series of run-ins with OSISS management. The stress from that further aggravated Clark's PTSD and he eventually took 30 days sick leave.
OSISS responded by clawing back his pay, Daigle noted. The stress created by the events at OSISS led to a significant deterioration of Clark's health and financial situation, his report added.
The two extra days of sick leave that the DND wants to be paid for is from that period.
Clark acknowledges his time at OSISS aggravated his PTSD and sent him into a spiral of depression. After being forced out of the organization he withdrew from society.
The standoff between Daigle and the senior military leadership found its way into the Commons several weeks ago. But Defence Minister Peter MacKay brushed aside concerns the government was trying to undercut the role of the ombudsman, saying that he, as minister, could be relied on to stand up for the country's soldiers.
MacKay, however, also warned Daigle not to advocate on behalf of soldiers.
A number of soldiers suffering from PTSD have come forward to complain about their treatment by the military. In May, one father went as far as to kidnap his son from Canadian Forces Base Petawawa and admit the Afghan war veteran into a civilian treatment facility after the military failed to deal with the soldier's problems.
Both Smith and Natynczyk declined to be interviewed. But in an emailed statement last week, DND noted, "We have had and continue to have positive discussions with the Ombudsman Office with regards to the case of Mr. Clark and the observations they raised. Due to the fact this case is not fully resolved and because of privacy concerns, it would be inappropriate for the Canadian Forces to comment further at this point."
The email stated the government "is committed to providing ill and injured veterans and members of the Canadian Forces with the care and support they need as they transition to civilian life." In an email, MacKay's spokesman Jay Paxton also added "positive discussions" concerning Clark were ongoing. "I'll note Minister MacKay has made the care of ill and injured personnel his number one priority and he has instructed officials to ensure the necessary resources are in place to provide the appropriate care for those who are in need," added Paxton.
Clark said the only communication he has had with the Canadian Forces in years was the letter that arrived Monday demanding the money.
An official with Daigle's office says discussions are ongoing with DND but added the ombudsman has no intention of backing away from his recommendations.
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