Canadian Forces drops job offer for veterans’ advocate after he tells Trudeau system is failing wounded soldiers

A veterans’ advocate courted for a job by the had his offer of employment because he wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to complain that injured military personnel, including a soldier who died, weren’t being treated properly.

had offered the job in June to retired Master Warrant Officer Barry Westholm, acknowledging that his advocacy for injured soldiers was just what was needed to turn around the Joint Personnel Support Unit.

Westholm had been a JPSU sergeant major before quitting in 2013 to protest the poor state of in the unit that is supposed to take care of injured .

Westholm replied to Lt.-Col. Chris Robidoux, JPSU deputy commander, that he was interested in becoming involved in the plan to set a new direction for the unit. But Westholm stipulated he would work for free since he felt an obligation to help the injured.

However the job offer was rescinded two months later because Westholm sent emails to Trudeau, Defence Minister Harjit and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance outlining how the current failed military personnel, including Pte. Leah Greene.

Westholm emailed Trudeau on July 26 to complain that Greene, who suffered a spinal injury during her military service that left her partially paralyzed, had run into roadblocks trying to get help from the Canadian Forces and government.

Greene, who for years had been dealing with bureaucratic red tape, chronic pain and mental issues, had died that day.

After her death, Westholm also sent emails to various ministers questioning why the system failed the soldier, highlighting problems both with the JPSU and Veterans Affairs in the Greene case.

He also sent an email to Sajjan and Vance requesting Greene’s family be awarded a Sacrifice Medal.

Robidoux, who originally offered Westholm the job, chastised the retired veteran for his emails. “You have repeatedly made slanderous, inappropriate and ill-informed statements about the JPSU and its personnel to our CDS, MND, PM and many others,” Robidoux wrote in an Aug. 22 email.

The officer stated it would be “very inappropriate to invite” Westholm to be part of the team planning to improve the JPSU system. He concluded Westholm wouldn’t “be a good fit.”

Westholm now questions whether the military is serious about fixing the system. “They don’t seem to want to hear about where the problems are and how they can be fixed,” he said in an interview. “The focus is more on optics, making sure no one in the is embarrassed.”

Westholm said he was surprised by Robidoux’s response, noting the officer was well aware of his advocacy for injured troops and highlighting problems with the system. In fact, Robidoux acknowledged in his initial email it was an opinion piece Westholm wrote in June, critical of JPSU, that prompted him to reach out with the job offer.

“Clearly you are a very passionate and knowledgeable , and just the kind of that we need to help move our yardsticks,” Robidoux wrote in a June 22 email.

Westholm provided the correspondence to the Ottawa Citizen.

Robidoux sent Westholm an official letter Sept. 1 apologizing for the language he used in his email chastising the veteran. But the job offer was no longer on the table.

Canadian Forces spokesman Navy Lt. Kelly Boyden said the military cannot discuss specific individual employment issues. “We can advise that the seeks to hire, recruit and retain the very best for available positions,” he added in an email. “The recognizes the importance of diversity and actively looks to recruit candidates with different views, experiences, and skill sets needed to meet the needs of our members.”

There has been praise for JPSU, originally created to offer programs to help mentally and physically injured troops resume their military careers or more commonly, to make a gradual transition into the civilian world.

But critics such as Westholm have continually raised concerns that injured personnel aren’t getting the attention they need because of the staff shortages and excessive workloads in JPSU.

The unit has had three commanding officers in the past year.

In addition, recently released documents obtained under the Access to Information law show the military leadership was well aware as far back as February 2014 that the JPSU was in dire straits with not enough staff and a growing number of injured soldiers to help.

Despite the severity of the problems, the Canadian Forces leadership continued to claim injured personnel were receiving a top level of care.

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About David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen