Military refuses to give details on JTF2 troops to Veterans Affairs
Elite unit is so secretive soldiers can't get disability benefits: Military refuses to give details on JTF2 troops to Veterans Affairs
The Ottawa Citizen February 8, 2005 By David Pugliese
The intense secrecy surrounding the Ottawa-based Joint Task Force 2 special forces unit is preventing injured commandos from obtaining disability benefits.
Military officials say they are working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to solve the problem, but it appears the stumbling block is the Canadian Forces' level of secrecy regarding JTF2. At least one of the injured commandos has failed to get a disability pension because the military won't turn over the proper documentation to Veterans Affairs, for security reasons.
Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant says she believes there are a number of cases involving injured special operations soldiers. ""Can you believe in all the years JTF2 has existed there has only been one permanently disabled person? (Soldiers) are afraid that by raising the fact they were injured, they would draw attention to their membership in JTF2 and that would be breaching the Official Secrets Act.""
Ms. Gallant is aware of the circumstances of the injury of one JTF2 soldier, but declined to discuss those details. She said she fears the individual could face retribution from the Canadian Forces if she reveals too many details.
The military acknowledges there is a problem, but officials say it appears to involve only one member of the unit, based at Dwyer Hill. ""Operational security needs of the CF would conflict with Veterans Affairs needs for disclosure of personal records in order to fill out claims,"" explained spokesman Lt.-Cmdr. Kent Penney. ""There's been an on-going effort to find a satisfactory balance between those two demands.""
Because of privacy regulations, Lt. Cmdr. Penney said the military does not know the details of the case raised by Ms. Gallant. It also doesn't know if the injury occurred during training, a unit-designated sports activity, or in combat.
In the early days of the war in Afghanistan, JTF2 soldiers were assigned to U.S. forces for various missions. In more recent times, JTF2 soldiers have served in Afghanistan as bodyguards for senior Canadian military personnel.
Ms. Gallant noted that intense secrecy was also used to deny disability pensions to Second World War veterans subjected by the military to mustard gas and other chemicals as part of a program to test the effectiveness of those weapons.
The military conducted numerous experiments on troops, exposing them to various toxic mixtures, but those soldiers couldn't receive benefits for their injuries since the military deemed all such records secret.
The federal government agreed to a compensation package only last year after the veterans started a lawsuit and the military ombudsman launched a probe into the matter.
Ms. Gallant, whose riding includes CFB Petawawa, said she doesn't want JTF2 soldiers to go through the same 60-year battle for disability benefits. One JTF2 soldier she knows faces financial ruin because of his injuries, she added.
Mrs. Gallant also noted that shoddy treatment of injured JTF2 members could hurt the unit's recruiting activities.
JTF2 is in the midst of a major expansion, although exact numbers of how many new soldiers are to be added is not known. The boost in unit numbers was ordered shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.
Defence Minister Bill Graham says morale is high in JTF2 and there are no problems in recruiting enough personnel. He says Defence officials will fix the problem of disability benefits for JTF2 soldiers.
Lt. Cmdr. Penney said JTF2's leadership is focused on the welfare of the personnel.
""What's paramount in terms of priorities for the leadership in JTF2 is the people,"" he added. ""That's what the legacy of the unit is built on, that's what all the successes are built on.""