Veterans Affairs will be opening a new access centre for veterans in Charlottetown in what appears to be a concession to a decision made last year to close the department’s only local district office.
Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney was in Charlottetown Friday to visit the department’s national headquarters and meet with local officials.
In an interview with The Guardian, Blaney said he made the decision to open the new access centre after meeting with Egmont MP Gail Shea and hearing the concerns of many on the closing of the district office.
“We needed to make sure veterans here on the Island have a direct access to the personnel,” Blaney said.
“That’s why we are creating an extension of our headquarters, which is an access centre for our veterans, so veterans will have full access to our people here in Charlottetown.”
The closure of the district office was announced last year as part of budget reductions and a streamlining of services at Veterans Affairs Canada.
The federal government said Service Canada locations across the province would thereafter serve as in-person access for veterans seeking services.
But veterans advocacy groups and unions raised concern over the fact P.E.I. would become the only province in Canada without an official district office for veterans.
Blaney said Service Canada offices will continue to provide veterans services, but this new VAC access centre will now also be available for direct service from department employees.
The district office is still scheduled to close, but the new access centre will replace it in the Jean Canfield building. It will operate with a smaller staff and is set to open in February of next year.
“The access centre will be embedded in our headquarters, so this is people who are skilled from our department who will give access,” Blaney said.
Blaney also announced Friday three new director general positions within Veterans Affairs Canada will be posted to Charlottetown
The director general of communications, director general of finance and director general of Canada Remembers positions within the department will all be posted externally and those who are chosen for these positions will have to live and work in P.E.I.
Veterans Affairs has been the subject of much tension over the last year as the department moved to slash hundreds of jobs as it streamlines services.
Blaney said Friday he understands these cuts have caused much stress on staff wondering about their futures, but reiterated he sees the Charlottetown headquarters as the 'flagship' of the department.
He also said rumours about further job cuts are mere ‘fear mongering’ by Opposition politicians hoping to gain cheap political points.
“As you know, we have a large amount of people who are eligible to retire and we are moving forward with attrition and human resource management,” Blaney said.
He added that he is seeking additional funding for the department going foward, due to a big uptake in new programs now being offered to meet the evolving needs of new veterans.
Blaney said he will be seeking support in the coming weeks from Opposition parties for additional financial support at the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.