OTTAWA, Dec. 10, 2013 /CNW/ - Veterans and the workers who serve them want Minister Julian Fantino to stop misleading veterans about what they will be able to access at Service Canada if Veterans Affairs office closures go forward next year.
Veterans across the country are fighting the closures of eight offices in Corner Brook, Charlottetown, Sydney, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Brandon, Saskatoon and Kelowna. The Prince George office closed in January and veterans want it reopened.
On November 28 Minister Fantino announced that one Veterans Affairs worker would be left in a Service Canada office in each of the communities when offices close on January 31 next year. But PSAC has since learned the measure will last just three months, and that in some cases that one worker would only be available on a part-time basis.
"Veterans recognized immediately that putting one worker in a Service Canada office wouldn't make up for closing down a whole office," said Sydney veteran Ron Clarke. "To learn now that the minister didn't even tell the whole story around that that is infuriating," he added.
PSAC President Robyn Benson called on the minister to acknowledge the reality of the impact of the closures.
"There's no way around it - closing these offices means taking away veterans-only spaces where almost 90 front line workers provide the in-person support veterans need and deserve," said Benson. "The government must reconsider this decision because it will hurt veterans and drive them away from the services they need and deserve."
"These closures will mean 25 fewer Case Managers nearby to work with high-risk veterans in their homes and 21 fewer Client Service Agents in the offices when veterans need them," said Yvan Thauvette, president of PSAC's Union of Veterans Affairs Employees. "Then there's the administrative staff, local managers, pension officers, nurses and occupational therapists. None of these people are dispensable," he added.
Thauvette says veterans in other communities will see longer waits for services too - especially where offices are taking on thousands of new files because of the closures. Those offices have lost staff too, and now veterans as a whole will have fewer people to work on thousands more cases.
Ron Clarke says the closures send an especially bad message to veterans given recent news about suicides among returning soldiers and veterans.
"So many veterans are in crisis," he said. "Now is not the time to be taking away a crucial part of the system that is supposed to ensure those veterans get the help they need when they need it.