Politics

Head of military support unit Gerry Blais steps down amid major overhaul of unit

Colonel Gerry Blais, commander of the Canadian Forces Joint Personnel Support Unit, has announced he is leaving his post effective immediately. The move comes as the military prepares to overhaul the unit which critics say has failed to deliver adequate services to injured personnel.

Commander of Canadian Forces Joint Personnel Support Unit announces retirement

Canadian soldiers patrol southwest of Kandahar, Afghanistan, Monday, June 7, 2010. Colonel Gerry Blais, commander of the Canadian Forces Joint Personnel Support Unit, has announced he is leaving his post effective immediately. (Anja Niedringhaus/Canadian Press)

The head of the Canadian Forces Joint Personnel Support Unit has stepped down in advance of a major overhaul of the unit.

In a memo to JPSU staff, Colonel Gerry Blais says his resignation is effective 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," Blais wrote.

"I am extremely grateful to every member of the unit for their undying efforts and overwhelming support as we have cared for the most vulnerable population in the CAF. We have established a 'safe space' for those who needed it most."

The JPSU is a network of 24 support centres situated at military bases across the country. The unit is responsible for helping ill and injured military personnel return to active duty or transition out of the Forces but it has come under criticism for a lack of staffing and an organizational structure that has sometimes made it difficult for personnel to receive the treatment and services they need.

A review published in September 2015 found understaffing was chronic at some support centres, causing significant attrition and burnout. The report also found constant changes in staffing at the JPSU made it difficult for clients to navigate the system.

"The JPSU and its personnel are to be congratulated for their extraordinary work," the review concluded.

"Having said that, the care of our soldiers is both a command and a moral imperative, and we can and must do better."

Reforms coming

The Canadian Forces confirmed earlier this month there would be reforms at the JPSU, sparking fears among some military personnel the unit might be shut down. The military quickly moved to quash those rumours.

"The Chief of Defence Staff will not close any Joint Personnel Support Unit and recognizes the extraordinary work accomplished by the JPSU and its personnel in supporting ill and injured members of the Canadian Armed Forces'" wrote Major Holly-Anne Brown.

"Work is ongoing to find ways to improve and expand the JPSU construct in order to meet the evolving needs of its members. A final decision regarding the JPSU restructure has not yet been made, and options are currently being explored."

No service interruption

A memo also went out this month from Lieutenant-General Christine Whitecross who assured military personnel the change at the JPSU "pertains strictly to the command and control structure and does not change the type, or standard, of care that is given to the ill and injured; there will be no interruption in service, nor do we expect negative impacts on the level of service."

Major-General Derek Joyce, Deputy Commander of Military Personnel Command, issued a statement Tuesday confirming the head of the JPSU was retiring from the military and thanking him for "his dedication and the relentless work he undertook for the care of our ill and injured members."

"It is Colonel Blais' personal decision to retire and pass on the transition of the JPSU to someone else," Joyce wrote.

"We thank Colonel Blais for his many years of dedicated service and are extremely grateful for everything he has accomplished."

One outspoken critic of the JPSU was less complimentary.

Barry Westholm was a senior member of the unit until he quit the military in protest over what he saw as a lack of services being provided to injured personnel.

In an open letter sent out after Blais' resignation, he criticizes the outgoing JPSU commander's leadership and accuses the military of ignoring years of warnings about problems within the unit. 

About the Author

Tom Parry

Senior Reporter

Tom Parry is a reporter on Parliament Hill for CBC News. He has covered stories for CBC from across Canada and around the world.

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