Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

CVA Sit rep - Suicide prevention - Director - CF Engagement Barry Westholm

CVA Sit rep - Suicide prevention - Director - CF Engagement Barry Westholm

Hello. my name is Barry Westholm, CD and I have been recreantly appointed by the Canadian Veterans Advocacy as their Director for Canadian Armed Forces Engagement. I'm emailing you to convey the CVA's great concern of a potential development in Joint Personnel Unit (JPSU), Prairie Region where two suicides have been reported and our over all concern of the JPSU. To the current situation, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces has reported that one, then two, suicides have taken place at JPSU Prairie Region. CVA would appreciate this to be confirmed at the earliest, and most respectable time.

Col Blais (Commanding Officer JPSU) who is located in Ottawa is the man to get in touch with of for this matter ( also, you may want to re-phrase the question to "two deaths in the JPSU" vice the term "suicide". The reason, as strange as it sounds, is that "suicide" is a diagnosis which may cause a delay in getting an answer back while death is a non-diagnosis. Attempted suicide is also a defined diagnosis and open to very liberal interpretation - I have witnessed what I would consider attempted suicides, only to be told they were "misuse of prescription drugs and alcohol" but subject matter experts.

The upcoming holiday season can be a particularly tough time of the year for people with Occupational Stress Injuries (OSI's) which include PTSD. While a Sergeant Major with the JPSU, I always sent out a "Warning Order" for my staff to keep close contact with those persons who may be vulnerable. However, as I have indicated in a great many military correspondences, and then blogs, the equation of JPSU posted-in-to-staff has been allowed to bloat to the point where practical oversight is impossible (thus my resignation in protest - see Link: 1). If the situation in JPSU Prairie Region is confirmed, steps must be taken to mitigate copycat actions - something that is a distinct possibility.

I am in contact regularly by JPSU staff who are doing there damnedest to provide support to our injured and ill, but are unable to do so and burning out. In Petawawa they are down to three Section Commanders (these are the people who are directly assigned those posted to the Platoon) for close to 160 injured and ill soldiers - 60 each. I have also been told that recently there has been a sharp drop-off of postings to the JPSU detachment in Petawawa and the speculation is that Unit Commanders don't want to post people to the JPSU anymore giving its manning issues and subsequent negative impact to their troops, which may explain the recent email from medical staff in Petawawa. (see Link: 2).

I also was informed that there will be a Parliamentary Committee going to Garrison Petawawa and will be visiting the JPSU. As the CVA Director for Canadian Armed Forces Engagement, I am available to meet with this committee should they want an unvarnished, concise and accurate assessment of the situation there. I say this because only yesterday, a staff member told me that they were unlikely to say much for fear of their jobs and livelihood. I was further told that despite getting four additional annuitant exception positions, none have been filled - indeed people who have applied have pulled their applications. The reason for this (I was told) was that despite being able to collect their pay as well as pensions, the working conditions at the JPSU are not worth it.

As I write this I have just awoken (2:15 A.M.) for what for me has become a ritual of the macabre given my PTSD - I have been haunted by nightmares ever since 1995 (link: 3). However, I am old and seasoned and have adapted over many years of effort; these young people coming back from Afghanistan, or those just facing PTSD from a former conflict, are not - it is a new and frightening place to be. They deserve proper support and leadership - but they are not getting it - the CVA intends to change this.

Link 1:
Link 2:
Link 3:

At this point the situation in JPSU Prairie Region remains officially unconfirmed (to me anyway) and I hope that somehow it is a tragic miscommunication and that there were no suicides there. However, given what I have witnessed and written about the JPSU, this tragedy is very plausible and if it did happen there should be hell to pay.

Summary. The CVA's official stance of the JPSU is still in draft format, but given this situation I will let you know that it is of utmost importance to the CVA that the JPSU be staffed and managed adequately and the CVA considers it tangible component of the sacred obligation to our Veterans. The JPSU is the conduit for injured and ill Veterans to their new lives as civilians, VAC support, and a host of other important resources - it is imperative to the CVA that it is administered with the care it deserves. Those with injuries severe enough for release from the CAF should depart with confidence, security and a sense of accomplishment - they should not be tripped on the way out the door to land flat on their faces, or die before reaching the door. To correct the situation at the JPSU is not difficult, but it is imperative, I hope that the mere spectre of suicides prompts you to aggressive action to support this important Unit.

If I can be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to call.

Sergeant Major (Ret'd) Barry Westholm, CD
Director: Canadian Armed Forces Engagement
Canadian Veterans Advocacy
613 587 4203

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

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