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Council of Canadians calls for Veterans Affairs offices to remain open

The Harper government intends to close eight Veterans Affairs offices, while claiming this is actually part of a “significant increase” in service because veterans can go to 600 Service Canada offices. The government is saying it will keep one dedicated Veterans Affairs worker at Service Canada locations in the eight cities for as long as necessary and point out that services are also available online and by telephone. While the government claims the offices being closed are underused, it has not provided information on how many veterans regularly visit them to back up that claim.

Veterans, a core constituency for the Conservatives, are not accepting this.

They are asking for the decision to close the eight offices be reversed. And after Veterans Affairs minister Julian Fantino failed to attend a scheduled meeting with a delegation of veterans to discuss these closings, some have now called for the minister to resign.

The Globe and Mail reports on why the government spin doesn’t add up. 

“The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents the Veterans Affairs employees who will lose their jobs, says Service Canada workers have received only limited training in Veterans Affairs services and programming.” On Monday, the Council of Canadians participated in a protest in Charlottetown against these service cuts. Debbie Buell from the Public Service Alliance of Canada noted that the district office, where veterans could get a one-on-one meeting with a case worker, will close this Friday.

Also, “Veterans say the telephone service is impractical for those who are hard of hearing and the department’s telephone system is difficult to navigate for anyone who is elderly or who has a post-traumatic stress disorder. And they say that the computer interface does not work for the elderly and that when completing forms that range up to 30 pages long, they need to be able to talk directly to experts.”

And it isn’t only older veterans who will face obstacles will these changes. In February 2010, The Hill Times reported, “More than 6,000 Canadian Forces members and discharged veterans who are receiving physical or psychiatric disability benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada have either served in Afghanistan or have a disability that has been related to their service in Afghanistan, the department says.”

In another news story today we learned about Leona MacEachern, a retired soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder who killed herself on Christmas Day. The Canadian Press reports that the government sent her family a letter on January 9, just days after her funeral, explaining that her benefits were payable only up to the day she died and therefore $581.67 was now owed back to the government.

And along with this insensitivity and unjustified service cuts, the Conservative government seems to have money for offices to support the travel of cabinet ministers. 

The Globe and Mail also reports today, “The Conservative government has doubled spending on regional offices that support travelling cabinet ministers… The number of Ministers’ Regional Offices has grown from 12 to 17 over the past five years, with one new office in Yellowknife costing $821,443 last year to set up. Federal spending on regional offices has increased from $1.9 million in 2008-09 to $4.1 million in 2012-13, an increase of 116 per cent.”

This poor treatment of veterans is part of a pattern with the Harper government.

In August 2010, Postmedia reported, “Canada’s veterans’ ombudsman (Pat Stogran)… said he will spend the remaining three months in his job casting a spotlight on the ‘long-standing and deeply rooted’ practice in the federal government to treat veterans unfairly. …Stogran made headlines when he complained publicly that bureaucrats, including those at Privy Council Office and Treasury Board, were blocking initiatives that could help Afghan war veterans. He said their motive appeared to be saving money and complained that the senior officials blocking the initiatives were making, on average, more in one year than a soldier who had their legs blown off in Afghanistan would receive in his or her lifetime.”

For more on this, please read my August 2010 blog, This is supporting our troops?

The eight Veterans Affairs offices closing are in Thunder Bay, Ontario; Kelowna, British Columbia; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Brandon, Manitoba; Windsor, Ontario; Sydney, Nova Scotia; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; and Corner Brook, Newfoundland. A Veterans Affairs office in Prince George, British Columbia was closed a year ago.

The Council of Canadians supports the call for the eight Veterans Affairs offices to remain open.