Public service union officials say the Defence Department is cutting resources for mental health, even as suicide rates among soldiers are climbing.

They say federal budget cuts are shutting down part of the department's program to monitor mental health and work on suicide prevention.

But Defence Minister Peter MacKay says that's simply not true.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service says experts who focus on post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries among soldiers are among those losing their jobs.

The Opposition slammed the cuts as callous in the wake of statistics released this week that show 20 soldiers died by suicide last year, up from 12 the year before.

But Defence Minister Peter MacKay says the government has been working to double the number of mental-health professionals available to treat the troops.

In a statement, MacKay said Canada has 378 full-time mental health professionals working with the Canadian Forces and has nearly reached its goal of more than 400, a spokesman for MacKay said. None of those workers are being cut, Jay Paxton said.

MacKay says in the statement that the Canadian Forces has the greatest ratio of mental health care workers to personnel when compared to NATO allies.

Positions moving from Ottawa

Some mental health care provider positions are being moved to CFB Petawawa, a base near Ottawa, MacKay says. Some military personnel were being treated in Ottawa, but they all live in Petawawa, he says.

A separate unit treating people out of Ottawa's Montfort hospital isn't affected by the move.

"Our government believes CF members are better treated where they work, train and live. This decision will significantly decrease the amount of time soldiers spend away from their families and their units as they will no longer have to travel to Ottawa for their appointments.

"To be clear, our decisions are based on the interests of those receiving treatment. 

"Our government has made the decision to ensure that the positions of all front line workers who treat ill and injured personnel are protected. Direct patient care is not being affected in any way by recent efficiency measures."

The cuts also come at the same time as the Military Police Complaints Commission is examining the way the military handled the 2008 suicide of a soldier.

with a file from CBC News