© Guardian file photo
Department of Veterans Affairs
Veterans Affairs Canada plans to cut 500 positions over the next four years and may be forced to cut upwards of 800 if the Conservative government imposes further budget reductions on the department, according to a senior government official.
Earlier this week, federal documents revealed plans to cut $226 million from the VAC budget. The spending cuts stem from a strategic review undertaken by 13 other federal departments and agencies aimed at reducing government spending.
Department officials told media the reductions would mainly come from the dwindling number of older veterans accessing services.
But on Thursday, The Guardian learned from a senior official in government, who spoke under an agreement of anonymity, these budget cuts will result in roughly 500 positions at VAC being cut over the next four years.
Even more jobs may be on the line if the Harper government approves further budget reductions in its next budget.
All government departments and agencies have undergone an operational review aimed at slashing $4 billion from the federal budget by cutting either five or 10 per cent from each department.
If a 10 per cent reduction is imposed on VAC, another 300 department jobs will also be lost, the source told The Guardian.
If a lesser cut of five per cent is imposed, 150 positions would be eliminated on top of the 500 currently on the chopping block.
That would be a loss of almost a third of the roughly 2,200 positions in the department.
Yvan Thauvette, national president for the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees, says employees were told about the possibility of 400-500 positions being eliminated, but he was not aware of further imminent job losses.
Nonetheless, he and all employees of the department are very concerned about their futures.
"The employees are getting nervous because they don't know if they will still have a job tomorrow in some cases," Thauvette said.
"We see numbers but we're never sure where the department is going and I'm not even sure that department even knows where it's going sometimes."
The union leader said he is concerned not only about the loss of so many jobs, but the potential negative effects such massive cuts would have on veteran services.
He believes it would especially affect the time it takes to process client case files.
"It's very easy for the department to send someone a cheque, but they don't always need money. They need health services, they need support from case managers, from client service agents. And that takes months."
Department officials strongly maintain that cuts to department spending will not affect veteran benefits.
"We want to be very clear in saying that there will be no cuts to veterans' benefits," said Codie Taylor, spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, in an email to The Guardian.
"Changes at the Department of Veterans Affairs are focused on improving efficiency, cutting unnecessary red-tape and improving service delivery."
It is not known how many of the over 1,300 jobs at the Charlottetown VAC headquarters will be affected by the imminent cuts.
But Thauvette believes Charlottetown will not escape unscathed.
"Will they cut in Charlottetown? Probably at some point because in the regions they are already at the lowest level possible to deliver services and in some cases I believe they (the regions) would need additional resources," he said.