A former Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) woman soldier who was medically discharged from service in September is seeking answers from the JDF as to its alleged refusal to pay her for the remainder of her contract period.
But while she seeks answer and, by extention, compensation, the former soldier, 26-year-old Chaneque Gardener is crying foul regarding the way she said she was treated when she started developing medical issues.
“I served in the JDF for two years and nine months and ever since I joined, I’ve been having issues with the medical doctors there and the treatment that they provided for my injuries and illnesses. During my training I fell and hit my back twice and was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and facet joint arthropathy. I was also diagnosed with Baker’s cyst and patella femoral syndrome in both knees,” Gardener said in a letter sent to the Jamaica Observer.
When Gardener returned from maternity leave on June 8, 2020, she said she decided to see her commanding officer about the charge and inquire about another charge that was set for her whilst on maternity leave and she was subsequently sentenced to seven days in the military prison.Before being sent to prison one has to see the military doctor to ensure they are fit to be committed. I saw the doctor and she said they will not sign the committal form as I have a three-month-old baby and there’s a possibility for the milk to be contaminated during transport and my breasts can get infected. She made a call to my commanding officer and after the call ended she signed the form and said I had to do the time in prison. I advised her that I suffer from major depressive disorder which would be known by them as I was diagnosed by a military psychologist and it would be hard for me to cope in lock up. I was sent there nevertheless. Whilst there I had to be expressing milk in an unsanitary cell for it to be transported to my baby,” she said.
Gardener’s medical records, obtained by the Observer, confirmed the physical injuries to her back and knees and her mental health challenges. The report highlighted that she was negatively affected by the lock up in prison and her perceived substandard medical care from JDF.
Further, after leaving the military prison, Gardener said her depression worsened and when she expressed her situation she was meted out with harsh treatment and an eventual hospitalisation at Bellevue.
“After leaving military prison my depression got worse to the point of having suicidal ideation. I told the psychiatrist how I was feeling and he urged me to stop breastfeeding so I can start medication. I went to the medical centre in Up Park Camp and asked them for the medication that the psychiatrist had prescribed as I felt I was getting worse. Instead of giving me the medication, the doctor sent me to UHWI to be admitted. I saw a psychiatrist there and she said I don’t need admission, but I need to start taking medication immediately. She gave me the prescription and sent me back to Up Park Camp. I went in and got the medication and was sitting down as the medication causes a calming effect. I was then advised by the JDF medical doctor that I was being sent to Bellevue until I calmed down. I was so shocked that words were elusive and she slammed the door and walked out.
I was taken to Bellevue and was told I had to be kept for observation based on the recommendation from the JDF medical doctor. I asked to see the recommendation but my request was denied. I spent seven days at Bellevue and it was very hard for me there. Instead of getting better I was getting worse as the patients there had more severe mental illnesses than I did. When my uncle contacted the doctors at JDF medical centre, they told him I was sent to Bellevue because Ward 21 had no bed space, which was a lie. After returning from Bellevue I spent the weekend at home and was sent right back to work the following week. I followed up with my psychiatrist at UHWI and he gave me a sick leave to take back to Camp, which stated that I was unfit for work. I took it to them and the doctor put the sick leave on my file and sent me back to work,” she said.
In order to be granted the leave, Gardener said she had to do an interview to get privileged leave as she was not feeling well enough for work.
“I had to go on an interview to get privileged leave as I really wasn’t feeling well enough for work. I took two weeks off but after seeing the psychiatrist again he thought I was still unfit and gave me another sick leave to take back to JDF. The doctor did the same thing again; sent me right back to work. Up Park Camp would have been under lock down by this time and not being able to see my kids made things worse to the point where I started talking to persons and no one was there and I started banging my head on objects. I was taken to the hospital and the doctors said they refuse to send me back to work in that environment so they admitted me to Ward 21 at UHWI,” Gardener said.She was discharged from the hospital on September 8, 2020 and was discharged from the JDF the following day.
In fact, this was a recommendation from her medical report, which stated that Gardner’s stressors are related to her employment and relationship as well as a past history of adverse childhood experiences. The report recommended that she continue to take her medication and engage in psychotherapy but also outlined that she was unfit to participate in her regular duties and should be allowed leave pending a review on September 2, 2020.
The report also stated that Gardener’s military career was in doubt as given her negative view of the organisation and the medical care provided, her relationship with the JDF would continue to be challenging and impact negatively on her mental health and occupational functioningBut what was to follow has left her seething and seeking legal redress.
“I was told that I will not be paid for the remainder of my contract, which is four years and three months. I have injuries that need physiotherapy and I still have to be on anti-depressants. I also have a young baby plus an older child to take care of. They have caused me physical and emotional pain and have left me with nothing,” Gardener said. She added: “I am not disputing the discharge because I am sick, but their medical doctors are the main reason why my sickness got worse and now they refuse to pay me for the remainder of my contract.”
Moreover, Gardener who sees herself as an altruist, said initially she joined the JDF because she hates injustice, but now she is the subject of the very thing she despises.
“Having gone through so much in such a short tenure is proof that a lot of changes need to be made to that organisation because soldiers are crying out but no one is listening,” Gardener said.
Questions regarding Gardener’s situation were sent to JDF Military Cooperation Officer Major Basil Jarrett on Friday evening, but up to press time they were not answered.