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A Canadian soldier searches a compound in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan, in June, 2011. (David Goldman/The Associated Press)
A Canadian soldier searches a compound in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan, in June, 2011. (David Goldman/The Associated Press)

Head of support unit for wounded soldiers steps down amid overhaul Add to ...

The director of casualty-support management for the military has stepped down amid an overhaul of the system that looks after ill and injured soldiers.

The Globe and Mail and The Canadian Press have obtained a copy of the internal farewell address from Colonel Gerry Blais, who tells Joint Personnel Support Units (JPSU) across the country that he has decided to leave his position immediately.

“There is a great deal of change ahead and I do not feel that I am prepared to lead the unit into this new method of operation,” Col. Blais wrote in a message distributed Tuesday.

The JPSU was created in 2008 and designed to assist wounded soldiers at a time when casualties from the Afghanistan war were mounting. The unit’s 24 personnel-support centres and eight satellite offices are supposed to help ill and injured soldiers return to their military careers or train them for new civilian jobs and smooth their transition out of the Canadian Forces.

The Globe and Mail reported in December that the Canadian Forces was overhauling the JPSU system after an internal review found a myriad of problems, including insufficient staff and resources to properly aid vulnerable soldiers. The review, which was ordered by General Jonathan Vance in the summer, resulted in more than 50 recommendations, many of them highlighting long-standing problems with the support unit.

Major-General Derek Joyce, co-chair of the steering committee overseeing the reconstruction of the JPSU, confirmed Col. Blais’s departure. The search for a replacement is under way, he said.

Maj.-Gen. Joyce said he doesn’t see the farewell message – particularly the reference to change – as criticism or “anything unusual.” He pointed out that Col. Blais served for seven years as the JPSU commander and he’s done “an absolutely outstanding job taking care of our ill and injured.”

In his message, Col. Blais said he believes the system had accomplished “great things and established a safe place for those who needed it most.”

Concerns about JPSU staffing and training were the subject of a scathing report by the country’s military ombudsman a couple of years ago, but Col. Blais – at the time – described the staffing level as “adequate.”

After the release of the ombudsman’s report in October, 2013, Col. Blais said in an interview that “most of the issues have been or are definitely in the process of being resolved.”

Col. Blais also defended a decision to ask wounded soldiers to sign a gag order, which barred them from criticizing senior officers on social-media outlets or posting disparaging comments about the JPSU on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

He told a House of Commons committee in the spring of 2014 that the measure was meant for their own good.

“The form is there more for the protection of the individuals because unfortunately there are occasions where people, especially when they are suffering from mental-health issues, will make comments or become involved in discussions that, later on in the full light of day, they would probably prefer that they had not been involved,” he testified.

With a report from Renata D’Aliesio

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