NDP, unions rally to save Veterans Affairs district office

Teresa Wright
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Prince Edward Island will be the only province in Canada without a local Veteran’s Affairs office in three weeks – something the NDP and the department’s unions are fighting to reverse.

The closure of P.E.I.’s district office was announced in 2012, and ever since has been invoked by political rivals and unions as an attack on services for veterans.

During a rally in Charlottetown Friday organized by the provincial NDP, federal N.S. NDP MP Peter Stoffer said he believes it’s not too late to save the office from closing.

“It’s important to let the government know that these cuts are not acceptable and that the people of Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island simply won’t put up with it,” Stoffer said. “It is the wrong thing to do.”

Stoffer and union leaders at the rally insist the loss of this office and others like it across the country, coupled with hundreds of job cuts at Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) over the last year-and-a-half, will have serious impacts on services to Canada’s veterans.

He pointed to the string of military suicides over the last few weeks, especially the most recent revelations about Retired Cpl. Leona MacEachern, who took her own life on a Calgary highway on Christmas day.

A statement released by her husband Thursday claims she developed PTSD as a result of “protracted battles with Veterans Affairs to obtain medical benefits for issues arising from dental work in the late 1980s while stationed in Germany during the first Gulf War.”

Stoffer said Friday he has heard from numerous retired veterans, RCMP and their families similarly frustrated with the current service level at VAC.

Further losses of personnel will only make this worse, he said.

He called the department’s assurances that services will not be impacted by the cuts a “bold-faced lie. If I ask you to cut 50 per cent of your department right now, could you still provide the same local service you did yesterday?” Stoffer said.

Charlottetown’s district office is scheduled to close on Jan. 31. The department headquarters will remain open, but this is not the first point of contact for veterans seeking services.

In response to concerns raised by unions and local veterans, VAC did announce a new access centre to replace district office. It will operate with a smaller staff in the Service Canada centre in the Jean Canfield building.

But provincial NDP Leader Mike Redmond echoed Stoffer’s concerns, saying P.E.I. is being unfairly targeted by federal budget balancing measures. And this will only hurt vulnerable veterans, he said.

“To have the only province not offering those essential services is deplorable,” Redmond said.

“We’re hearing too many stories of veterans with homes with no oil who are bundled up in blankets in the cold because they’re too proud to come into the office. And now we’re telling people to go on a 1-800 number or on the Internet? That’s deplorable.”

Both Stoffer and Redmond say they are confident public and political pressure will push the Harper government to stop the imminent closure of Prince Edward Island’s district office.

Nonetheless, union representatives say the new access centre office has already opened in the Jean Canfield building and currently is only staffed by a commissionaire.

 

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Organizations: Veterans Affairs Canada, NDP, RCMP Service Canada

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Canada Calgary Germany

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Recent comments

  • Angus
    January 11, 2014 - 10:00

    NDP and the unions are just preying on the Vets for their own ends. One for political purposes and the other to protect a bloated civil service, that they do not want to lose 1 job from, no matter what the burden is on the taxpayers. Just protecting their leaders perks and privileges. And of course the misguided and all the useful idiots on the Left who turn out for any protest the unions organize will support them. We all know what goes on at Veteran Affairs. Loaded with political appointees all doing make work projects, to kill time. And I won't even mention the other abuses that have been attested to many times.

    • SMC
      February 21, 2014 - 13:32

      What a cynical attitude, and so unpleasantly partisan.

  • candrayo
    January 11, 2014 - 05:40

    My P.T.S.D. from the Military left me unable o support the troops today in physical spirit…but in true warrior spirit…I was there! We need help, and that help needs to come in many shapes and sizes……we need the community behind us!

  • E M Sanford
    January 11, 2014 - 05:17

    Keep up the good work. When will this Government admit they made a mistake with the closing of VAC offices. Not only will/have face to face service to the Veterans and other clients suffer, the other job duties have also. How long are Veterans waiting for their Personal Care to be approved, how about their much needed equipment? One person can not do this job. One Client Service Agent has an average of 1300 clients. Services may not be cut but service has. Recently the work of the Sydney District Office has been transferred to Halifax. The staff have been working overtime. The staff that received letters saying they were no longer needed due to "lack of work" have been asked to take back work as there is too much for the remaining staff to keep up with. No Case Managers have been hired to travel to these areas. The Case Managers VAC have are assigned 40 clients. These are the Case Managed clients only. How much more will it cost the tax payers to have Case Managers travel to the areas previously serviced by the closing offices. I feel it will cost more than keeping these offices open. How much will it cost Veterans to travel to the Cities for face to face service. How many Veterans will just say to to heck with it, I will go without. That is where the Government will save money. Trying to save money on the backs of Veterans is shameful and will be remembered at election time. Perhaps one of the corporations Harper is protecting will hire him.