Preliminary Assessment - Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU)
31 October 2013
Major-General David Millar
Chief of Military Personnel
National Defence Headquarters
Major-General Pearkes Building
8th Floor, South Tower
101 Colonel By Drive
Dear Major-General Millar:
As you know, in August 2013, I launched a preliminary assessment into potential issues with respect to staff adequacy and services to ill or injured Canadian Armed Forces personnel at the Joint Personnel Support Unit.
I wish to thank you for the cooperation and full access to information and personnel given to my lead investigator.
Based on the information gathered to this point, I am satisfied that the attached assessment sufficiently identifies areas of concern for recommended action.
My office will continue to closely monitor and evaluate the efforts made to address the concerns brought forward.
Following concerns raised in a complaint to the Office of the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces (CF) Ombudsman (the Ombudsman) along with several high-profile media articles written this summer, the Ombudsman decided to conduct an assessment of potential issues regarding the JPSU’s staff adequacy and its services to ill or injured CF members.
The interim review took approximately five weeks and was conducted in two phases.
Phase One – Data Review
Firstly, all pertinent data and feedback gathered during recent Ombudsman outreach visits were reviewed. Contacts with the Office were also reviewed to capture any JPSU-related complaints received over the past 2 years.
Additionally, material gathered from hundreds of interviews done in support of three separate Ombudsman investigations (Operational Stress Injury IV, Military Families, and Reserved Care Follow-up) was also reviewed.
Phase Two – Canvass of a Cross-Section of JPSU/IPSC Clients and Staff
From a JPSU nominal roll of 1921 clients (CF members posted to the JPSU) and 291 staff, we solicited comments from a cross-section of 16 staff and 177 clients. It should also be noted that an additional 3,000 CF members and 554 CF families receive assistance from the JPSU/IPSCs.
Three principal issue areas were identified for assessment:
- Staffing Capacity: Whether staff in the Integrated Personnel Support Centre’s (IPSC) client services and JPSU platoon structure is adequate for the numbers of ill or injured members seeking services.
- Training/Staff Skill and Knowledge: Whether JPSU/IPSC staff possesses the skills, knowledge, and training required to effectively support and administer to the unique needs of JPSU/IPSC members and clients.
- Other: Whether there are other current or emerging trends/concerns that affect the effective operation of the JPSU as well as miscellaneous circumstances that may impact negatively on clients.
Staffing Capacity – Ombudsman Data
Outreach visits to CF locations by the Ombudsman or his staff normally include interaction with IPSCs. Insufficient staffing was the primary issued raised by IPSC staff across the board. The loss of Reserve Force members - due to new rules on retired CF personnel not being able to work as Reservists while also in receipt of a Regular Force pension - was widely noted as a big loss to JPSU detachments across the country.
By virtue of the can-do CF culture, shortfalls in staffing were often addressed from within the JPSU detachments as clients sometimes ended up as staff members.
Staffing Capacity - JPSU/IPSC Staff and Client Interviews
60% of interviews referenced insufficient staff numbers relative to JPSU member and client demands.
The change in policy to not allow Reservists to work while in receipt of a Regular Force pension was cited as a strong contributor to experienced people leaving the organization.
Training/Staff Skill and Knowledge – Ombudsman Data
Feedback gathered by Ombudsman staff suggested that training should be enhanced to better equip staff to manage potentially difficult situations. The effectiveness of JPSU staff appears to depend more on individual personalities and experience than training programs or a formalized competency profile1.
Training/Staff Skill and Knowledge - JPSU/IPSC Staff and Client Interviews
60% of interviews suggested inadequate skill and knowledge for the job and suggested a need for training to improve staff effectiveness, comfort and confidence.
Other – Ombudsman Data
Demand for JPSU assistance appears to be high. Two thirds of the CF personnel seeking assistance are external clients of the JPSU (ex: not posted to the unit).
Over the past 2 years, complaints to the Ombudsman’s office about the JPSU relate primarily to delays in - or denial of - a posting to the unit. These are normally investigated/addressed on a case-by-case basis.
With the exception of one complaint received early in 2013, relating primarily to the management of the JPSU, staffing, staff care, and their impacts on service-provision, the Office has not received complaints about the quality of services provided by the JPSU/IPSCs to its clients.
Other - JPSU/IPSC Staff and client interviews
28% of members sought assistance from the Ombudsman's office for their requests to be posted to the JPSU.
48% of interviews indicated that the successful reintegration of CF personnel back to their units is not being effectively captured and communicated.
There appears to be inconsistency in JPSU relations with other units focussed on helping ill and injured CF members. Most are reported as good while some others were described as being less functional in the view of some JPSU staff.
Other miscellaneous issues affecting those posted to JPSU/IPSC were noted. The majority of these were attributed to policies or decisions that are not within the purview of JPSU (ex: delays in payment of pension and severance). These issues can often be addressed on an individual, case-by-case basis, with or without the involvement of the Office of the Ombudsman.
Action by CF Authorities
As noted in previous Ombudsman reports that looked into the care of ill and injured CF personnel, numerous civilian positions had been left vacant during the current period of public service staffing restrictions.
Director Casualty Support Management (DCSM) reported that the Deputy Minister has provided exemptions to the hiring of Class B Reserve members (46 personnel) as well as approval to staff all civilian positions which had previously been left vacant during government-wide Public Service staffing restrictions.
The Social Work Officer within DCSM is developing a national training package that focuses on staff resiliency. There does not appear to be other training needs identified within the corporate training program.
The Chief of Military Personnel commenced an internal review of JPSU staffing, training and support in August 2013.
The JPSU concept is relatively unique within allied military circles. Lessons learned are a normal part of evolving and maturing a new approach to managing ill and injured military personnel. Observations made during this review suggest there may be a requirement to review overall governance of support offered to ill and injured members.
There is a consistent reporting of staff shortages and a need for better training to inspire staff confidence and resiliency while supporting and administering to ill and injured clients who are posted to the IPSCs.
Specific experience and training requirements do not currently exist for CF members posted as staff to the JPSU. There is also no corporate training plan in place that includes modules to enhance staff confidence and effectiveness in dealing with the unique needs of JPSU members and clients (such as challenges linked to mental health, addictions, rehabilitation and return to work). As noted above, resiliency and self-care training have been identified as developmental requirements and are currently being developed by the DCSM Social Work Officer.
Conclusions, Recommendation(s), and Way Forward:
The information gleaned during this brief assessment confirms that meaningful efforts to address acute staffing challenges and training needs will undoubtedly improve JPSU/IPSC management and administration/support of injured and ill CF members transitioning to civilian life or pursuing a return to work in the military environment.
As mentioned previously, some effort is underway to develop a candidate assessment profile interview. Due to the unique challenges of work involved in supporting ill and injured members, it is recommended that the CF continue to put measures in place in order to ensure the careful and appropriate selection of individuals posted to the JPSU as staff.
It is essential to staff the JPSU with the appropriate number of personnel, to ensure these personnel possess the necessary experience and competencies, and to support them with suitable training. As noted above, this effort is ongoing and the Office of the Ombudsman will continue to assess progress in this regard.
The issues identified in this preliminary review echo those reported to the Office of the Ombudsman through various outreach activities as well as recent systemic investigations. Although the Office of the Ombudsman does not intend to undertake a more extensive investigation at this time, it will continue to closely monitor and evaluate the efforts underway to address the concerns raised.
1 The Office of the Ombudsman has recently been advised that a candidate assessment profile interview is being developed for Director Military Careers’ selection of members posted to JPSU/IPSCs as staff.
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