JDF maintains radio silence on psychological support given to soldiers

JDF maintains radio silence on psychological support given to soldiers

Senior staff reporter

Sunday, February 16, 2020

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THE Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) is tight-lipped regarding the psychological support given to its members.

Last month, JDF Corporal Doran McKenzie fatally chopped and shot his common-law wife Suianne Easy after an alleged breakdown in their relationship.

News of the killing sent shock waves throughout the island with many individuals condemning the act. Throughout social media, there were many warnings to women to avoid entering intimate relationships with army men and other members of the security forces.

A sore point for online commentators was the fact that McKenzie's neighbours heard him speak of his intention to kill Easy, but no one reported it.

When the Jamaica Observer visited the scene of crime, 61-year-old Faith Walters, a woman McKenzie respected and confided in, told the news team that he had, for over a year, repeatedly spoken of his intent to kill Easy.

“Him really do it? Him seh him woulda do it, still. Him talk 'bout that more than one time, him talk 'bout it every day, daily when him and her have arguments,” Walters said at the time.

Subsequently, questions were raised as to what avenues exist for members of the public to make complaints if they are witnesses to or privy to information whereby army personnel may hurt their spouses. In addition, individuals questioned the measure of psychological support army personnel receive and whether or not seeking help, if they are psychologically burdened, could hinder their military career.

When the Sunday Observer contacted Major Basil Jarrett, civil military cooperation officer at JDF, he requested an e-mail with the questions. That was January 13, a day after the murder took place. After a series of telephone follow-ups, on January 27 another e-mail was sent inquiring about the responses. To date, the JDF has not supplied a response to the following questions:

1. What avenues exist for members of the public to report incidences of intimate partner violence which they may be aware of?

2. What support does the JDF give to partners of soldiers (whether male/female) who may be suffering domestic abuse?

b. How are partners made aware of such resources, that is, if they exist?

3. The nature of the job of a soldier is very stressful, demanding and pressuring. It is known that every once in a while soldiers are required to pass a physical training test, but what about regular psychiatric evaluations and counselling? Are these provided to soldiers in a mandatory way?

4. Going forward, how does the JDF intend to intervene to ensure that mentally their soldiers are OK?

5. Following on question 4, psychologists and counsellors may be available at Up Park Camp. How many percentage of servicemen utilise these services?

6. What assurance is in place that accessing this resource will not result in the victimisation or stigmatisation of soldiers?

Psychologist and chief ideator at Above and Beyond, Dr Leachim Semaj, weighed in on the matter and the question of whether members of the security forces need mandatory psychological support.

“By default, someone who chooses to be a soldier has chosen that kind of work. It is not like they were thrust into it. So, by default, I would not necessarily figure that the job is unduly stressful. Some of the highly stressed jobs in terms of the amount of things you have to deal with includes an air traffic controller. So if you choose the stressors it is different than being thrust into a situation. Stress is a function of being in a situation that you are not in control and you don't know how to handle,” he said.

Dr Semaj further suggested that more be done to help people, who have access to weapons, treat with domestic issues in a civil manner.

“There is a greater proportion of them involved in domestic situations that the weapons come into play because of the availability of weapons. Police have weapons, soldiers have weapons. They learn how to settle disputes using weapons, so it's one of the likely options that they have,” Semaj said, adding that a man or woman who has no access to weapons would not have that choice.

“The overall awareness is important for such organisations to help them know how to operate when they're off duty, when they're not in an attack situation. So that's the bigger picture; for them to understand when they really don't need to do what they've been trained to do whilst they stay sharp at all times,” he said.

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