New commander promises to add staff to much-maligned unit for injured soldiers

Unit for injured soldiers to get more staff

OTTAWA — The new head of the military’s support unit for ill and injured military personnel is promising to finally address the top complaint about his much-maligned organization: a shortage of staff.

And while such promises have been made in the past, Brig.-Gen. Shane Brennan says plans are already in motion to put 80 new military members to work at the Joint Personnel Support Unit by summer 2018.

“We’ve seen some of the problems and we’re trying to fix them,” Brennan said Wednesday, minutes after taking command of the unit.

“I can’t go back in time and change what’s happened, but we can move forward and that’s what we’re going to do.”

The JPSU was established in 2008, at the height of the war in Afghanistan, comprising 24 support centres on bases across the country and eight satellite offices in places with large military populations.

The purpose is to help physically and mentally wounded military personnel heal and return to their units, or prepare for medical release and transition into the civilian world.

Approximately 1,500 injured military personnel are assigned to the unit each year, while another 3,000 seek out its services on a walk-in basis.

But the organization has had a perennial shortage of staff, resulting in countless complaints from injured military personnel about a lack of support in returning from injury or transitioning to civilian life.

National Defence says about 12 per cent of JPSU positions are currently empty, which equates to about 55 out of the organization’s total complement of 453 employees.

While that represents an improvement from December, when the organization was short 17 per cent of its workforce, Brennan said plans are underway to go even further by adding the 80 service personnel.

That will address not only the current gap, he said, but also hopefully meet what has been a steady growth in the number of injured military personnel facing medical release.

“The need’s been identified,” said Brennan, who until recently commanded Canada’s Joint Task Force-Iraq. “We have to start putting the resources in place now, and we’re going to approach that actively.”

Brennan’s change of command ceremony on Thursday came exactly one week after chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance surprised many by promising big changes to the JPSU.

The unit, which Vance said was “created in crisis,” will be folded into a bigger organization that will help all retiring military personnel transition to civilian life, not just those leaving for medical reasons.

Exactly how all the pieces will fit together remains a work in progress, Brennan said.

“What we have is a variety of recommendations and working committees that have worked to try and support this, and we’re trying to put together the final pieces of that,” he said.

“Some of that may roll out in the near future, but right now we’re in the process of trying to finalize.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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