PSAC claims minister 'misleading veterans' on what they can access
© Guardian file photo
Department of Veterans Affairs
Veterans and the workers who serve them say Ottawa continues to try to mislead veterans about what they will be able to access if Veterans Affairs office closures go forward next year.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) issued a detailed release Tuesday highlighting many concerns and fears over plans to close eight offices, including the one in Charlottetown, on Jan. 31.
On Nov. 28, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino announced that one Veterans Affairs worker would be left in a Service Canada office in each of the communities when offices close.
But PSAC says it 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.
John Yeo, a past president of the Charlottetown legion, has called the proposed move a disgrace.
He says any closure of district offices would represent government going back on a promise to care for veterans.
PSAC president Robyn Benson is calling on Fantino 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 frontline workers provide the in-person support veterans need and deserve,'' says Benson.
"The government must reconsider this decision because it will hurt veterans and drive them away from the services they need and deserve.''
PSAC argues that forcing veterans to turn to other workers at Service Canada locations, going online or telephoning for assistance is a poor substitute to the personal and professional help they have become accustomed to receiving from district offices.
"Veterans Affairs workers (currently) receive specialized, ongoing training because Veterans Affairs services and programs, like the needs of veterans, are vast and complex and always evolving,'' notes PSAC in its release.
"Service Canada workers have received very limited training about Veterans Affairs services and programs, so can only answer general questions and supply and receive forms.''
If the closures go ahead, P.E.I. will be the only province without a district office.
Veterans will be forced to drive long distances to Saint John, N.B., to consult with frontline case workers, notes PSAC.
The Veterans Affairs district office in Charlottetown had 12 frontline workers in 2012, including two case managers and two client service agents.
PSAC says the office has 2,252 clients, down only 33 from a year ago.
Canadian veterans were in Ottawa in October to launch a national campaign to protest the shutting of nine district offices.
The Prince George office closed in January and veterans want it reopened.
The campaign, a 3 1/2-minute YouTube video, features a number of Canadian veterans and frontline support workers.
They say they are all disappointed by the federal government's decision to close the district offices and that Ottawa is betraying Canada's veterans.
A rally attracting local veterans and politicians from all three levels of government was held Oct. 11 at the Charlottetown legion.
In a statement to The Guardian, Veterans Affairs Canada called the access centre to be located at the VAC headquarters in Charlottetown a viable alternative to the district office.
"This is designed to make the best use of the over 1,000 employees working on the Island, as well as the location of the head office in Charlottetown and is a logical move to better serve veterans on the Island,'' says Veterans Affairs Canada.
"Our government is dedicated to ensuring veterans and their families have the support they need, when they need it. To accomplish this, we are adjusting the footprint of the department to keep up with the changing demographics of veterans across Canada.''