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Soldier who attempted suicide on fast-track for dismissal as DND breaks promise

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OTTAWA - National Defence has done an about-face and revoked an offer that would have allowed a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder, who spoke publicly last fall about his attempted suicide, the right to an extended release from the military.

Master Cpl. Kristian Wolowidnyk's story made headlines across the country in November when it was revealed he tried to take his own life after the army put him on the fast-track for dismissal.

The military backed down when his case became public, but just last week reversed itself and said he doesn't qualify.

He was given the latest news last Tuesday by officials at the Edmonton Joint Personnel Support Unit, one of several centres across the country designed to get injured and ill soldiers back to their units or — more often — out of the military.

Wolowidnyk, and wife Michele, were told the offer for an extended release under the Integrated Transition Program was withdrawn and that the base surgeon had stated that there was no medical reason why he couldn't be either working or in school.

Michele Wolowidnyk, in a letter to Defence Minister Rob Nicholson and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson, says that the base surgeon has never met her husband and that she believes the department was just stringing him along until the media attention died down.

"I question whether the intention was to allow Kristian to participate in the ITP program, or whether he was simply being led down the garden path and effectively silenced until the 'heat' from the media attention died down," she wrote in a letter dated May 2, 2014.

"I can assure you Kristian attempted suicide because he is very, very ill and had hit rock bottom at that point. In no small part due to having the prospect of having the only career he has ever known ripped away from him."

The case has re-emerged just as the Harper government prepares to commemorate the sacrifices of the Afghan war with a parade and special ceremony in Ottawa on May 9.

A spokeswoman for Defence Minister Rob Nicholson responded Sunday by underlining that the government and the military takes the "care of our ill and injured very seriously" and that significant investments have been made in new programs and therapies and staff.

But Johanna Quinney suggested the government won't interfere in the decision.

"The minister was assured by the military that every effort is being made to ensure a positive transition for this member," Quinney said in an email. "We expect that the military will help Master-Cpl. Kristian Wolowidnyk and his family every step of the way during this time."

Wolowidnyk, like other soldiers whose cases were documented last fall, wanted to stay in the military to at least the 10 year mark when he could qualify for an unreduced military pension.

The former combat engineer and Afghan war veteran is now unable to comment because, after all the public attention, he was compelled to sign the defence department's social media policy, which forbids criticism of the military and the joint personnel units in particular.

Before qualifying for an extended release on medical grounds, soldiers are required to take what's known as a complexity test, which helps rate their disability.

When the military first tried to bounce Wolowidnyk last fall, it refused to administer the test. But he insisted on taking it and when the results came back his case manager said he was not classified as "severely injured."

But a doctor handling his case a few months later pulled up the file to find the results did label him as "severely injured."

Wolowidnyk was asked to present a plan for his transition out of the military for a period of up to 36 months, but it was agreed he needed to seek treatment, which is now underway and lasts up to eight months.

In rejecting his treatment plan last week, Wolowidnyk was apparently reminded repeatedly that "he isn't an amputee," something his wife says makes a mockery of the defence department's claim that "psychological injuries are being taken seriously and there is no stigma attached to them."

Last year, the country's former military ombudsman noted that 90 per cent of the soldiers assigned to defence joint support units end up being dismissed. Many of them face not only a battle for benefits, but are kicked out before qualifying for a fully indexed pension.

That has led the veterans community to charge that the government is trying to save money on the backs of injured soldiers. Others claim that the military institution views post traumatic stress as a contagion and does its best to get rid of it.

Nicholson has repeatedly said that no one is dismissed from the military until they are ready and have a plan to transition to civilian life.

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