Retired Canadian Forces Sergeant Major Fires Back At Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant – He Says He Asked Her For Help And Got Nothing
Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant is blaming the news media after military supporters started giving her a hard time for comments she has made about soldiers with mental health issues. Gallant’s office has blamed “local media” for putting words into her mouth.
As noted, Pembroke Today reported that Gallant (whose riding includes CFB Petawawa) said the widely-held belief among soldiers that it’s career-killing to admit to post-traumatic stress – is all in their minds.
More from the Pembroke Today report: “She says the stigma is within the soldiers themselves. Her comments come as the government prepares to shut down eight veterans affairs offices at the end of today.”
The Canadian Press also carried details about Gallant’s comments in a larger article about the government’s treatment of veterans. Here is what that article noted:
Long-time Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant, whose Ontario riding includes Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, put an even finer point on the government’s message.
The widely held belief among soldiers that admitting to post-traumatic stress can jeopardize their careers is little more than a figment of their imaginations, she told the House.
Any treatment they received at the military’s new operation stress injury clinics is considered “completely confidential,” Gallant said. “And the stigma that has to be overcome is a stigma within themselves.”
Gallant’s remarks stand in contrast to a 2012 report by the military ombudsman, which showed that while senior officers had grown more tolerant, a negative attitude toward mental illness remains ingrained in military culture.
The concerns that Defence Watch is receiving from veterans is that the “self-stigma” phrase that Gallant brought up in Parliament appears to be a new talking point being promoted by the senior leadership of the Canadian Forces and the Conservatives – in other words the issues mentally injured soldiers are dealing with is “a stigma within themselves” or a “self-stigma.”
“The stigma that has to be overcome is a stigma within themselves,” Gallant said on January 30.
Jordie Yeo, a Canadian Forces veteran who has PTSD. told CTV that Gallant is wrong to put the onus on soldiers. “Her words are pointed and hurt,” he said.
Sergeant Major Barry Westholm, who quit in protest after watching the poor treatment those with PTSD are receiving, also wasn’t impressed. He wrote Gallant to tell her he was leaving the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) because of the treatment of veterans. He received a reply from Gallant’s office stating that she had been misquoted by the local news media. The office also sent him the transcript of what Gallant said in the Commons.
But Westholm was actually in the Commons during the debate and watched it all go down. He had also been previously providing Gallant with details about the poor state of the mental health treatment in the Canadian Forces and in the Joint Personnel Support Unit which was created to help ill and injured military members. According to Westholm, Gallant did nothing to help.
Here is what Westholm sent back to Gallant’s office in response to its claims that Gallant was misquoted:
The catalyst for my leaving the CPC was not from media reports; I watched the sitting of that session House of Commons and listened first-hand to what Cheryl had to say. The following are excerpts from what you sent me, the first is in regard to injured soldiers with Occupational Stress Injuries (OSI’s) such as PTSD:
“the stigma that has to be overcome is a stigma within themselves.”
A person suffering from PTSD has to contend with a sort of horror unlike anyone who hasn’t dealt with the disorder can describe. It is frustrating, terrifying, confusing and debilitating all in one ugly package; for a person first dealing with PTSD, it can trigger the most basic instinctual of reactions such as flight. It can make a person question who he or she actually is – or what they’ve become and who they will be (or even if they will be); it can invade their sleeping and waking hours to make both equally nightmarish. And with that a story:
As the Sergeant Major in the JPSU, I had occasion to sit with families of the ill and injured as part of my duties. During one such occasion, I sat in a small kitchen in Angus, Ontario with two distraught parents in front of me. The mother was completely broken down and softly weeping; the father had his arm around her and his eyes were also teared filled. They were asking me about there son, a young man in his mid-twenties, and more specifically, they are asking when he would return – when they could see him again and have him come home. It was an awkward situation as their son, my soldier, was sitting right beside me at the time – but he was not the son they remembered and they mourned his loss as if he had died. This is the ramifications of PTSD on the family unit; it casts a wide shadow on many loved-ones and those within whom PTSD dwells deserve our patience, encouragement and respect – as do their families.
I do not see any of those attributes in Cheryl’s statement regarding “self-stigma”, instead I sense a shrugging of responsibilities and a certain callousness I find alarming.
And with regard to the Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU/IPSC):
“IPSCs were founded on the principle that early intervention makes a difference in recovering from illness or injuries and successfully re-establishing civilian life. The IPSC at Base Petawawa provides support to Canadian Armed Forces, ill and injured personnel and veterans and their families, with the focus on the following core functions: the return to work program coordination, casualty support outreach delivery, casualty tracking, casualty administration and advocacy services, support platoon structure to provide military leadership supervision, administration support, and a liaison for military family resource centres with local base support representatives and local unit commanding officers”.
As Cheryl knows, probably more than any other MP, the JPSU (IPSC) is a critical unit, in critical condition. She knows this as I expended a great deal of effort in providing the facts of the JPSU, it’s shortcomings and the means to rectify them for years now. She even quoted one of the many emails I sent to her in Parliament, quote follows:
“I’m told that the usual ratio for section commander to subordinates is optimally 1:9, and usually in practice maybe 1:15. I’m told that at the JPSU in Petawawa, the ratio is about 1:45, and in some cases 1:70, and that an injured soldier takes about one and a half times the work of a healthy soldier. My question is, is there a staffing and infrastructure expansion plan in place to allow for the growth as required?”
So to hear Cheryl extoll the virtues of the JPSU in Parliament the other day, while knowing full-well it’s poor condition and by doing so also flaunting the recent Ombudsman’s Report on the JPSU (a report which recommendations mirrors those I provided to her years ago) was a bit much.
Additionally she, with the intimate knowledge of the state of this unit, used the JPSU as a tool to make political hay, which under normal circumstance would be understandable as it’s a great accomplishment. But the day that very picture was taken both Major Chubbs and I appealed to her and the MND for assistance for our Unit – something you both stated was coming – it never came.
So with that I bid her and the CPC adieu, with the hopes that my action will provide your Party incentive to put substance behind the claims of support to our injured and ill veterans, serving and retired and their families.