© Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Veteran Affairs Minister Julian Fantino speaks to reporters in Charlottetown Wednesday night after he met a small group of veterans for about 60 minutes. He said he wanted to set the record straight because there is what he called misinformation in the media regarding the problems at Veterans Afairs Canada.
Julian Fantino says Island veterans don't have to leave to get service; DVA staff in Charlottetown number over 1,100 with no change in sight
Veterans will not have to travel off-Island to receive the help they deserve, says Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino.
He arrived in Charlottetown Wednesday for two days of meetings with staff of the national headquarters, and a hastily arranged meeting with a few veterans themselves.
On Tuesday his office contacted the Charlottetown branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, asking for a meeting with any interested veterans for the next day.
It was short notice, said Legion officials, but about 20 people attended, including Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee and MLA Richard Brown for an hour-long meeting Wednesday evening at the Legion home on Pownal Street.
Political parties, unions and veterans have been angry about the closure announced in May, 2012 of the Charlottetown district office. That closure is set to occur the end of this month.
It used to be the location for one-on-one meetings with Island veterans and DVA staff, something that is not part of the operations at the national headquarters in Charlottetown. Some worried Island veterans might now be required to travel to Saint John, N.B. for those meetings.
Not so, said Fantino.
“We try and speak to those most affected by some of these rumours and misinformation and miscommunications and some mischief-making, to set the record straight and to provide them with answers to their questions,” he said.
“They don’t have to travel. They don’t have to leave their homes,” said Fantino.
Staff with the minister told The Guardian that most veterans deal with a client service agent. A DVA-trained agent is now located in the Service Canada office in Charlottetown, the Jean Canfield building.
Some veterans require special attention and care, so have a case worker looking after their file.
Case workers travel to meet those veterans where they live, said staff.
“They don’t have to leave their home at all,” said Fantino of veterans assigned to a case worker. “They never have. They won’t have to in the future.
“We do everything from helping them with their house cleaning, cutting their grass, shovelling their snow,” he said.
“There are all kinds of services provide to veterans that possibly a lot of people that don’t know the system don’t appreciate, but veterans do.”
He had praise for the headquarters staff onP.EI., which numbers over 1,100 even after some 230 job titles are being phased out following the 2012 federal budget.
““Things aren’t always perfect but for the most part they need to know that their service is known and appreciated by veterans and their families but also by the government and Canadian people as well,” said Fantino of DVA staff.
Bill Toussaint is a member of the Charlottetown Legion who attended the meeting with Fantino. He served with the army as a radar technician with two tours in the Middle East.
Toussaint notes that changes to the system now mean marriage partners and families of veterans receive no benefits once the veteran dies, unlike a previous system.
He wants that and other changes to what is called the Veterans Charter.
“It’s hard to say if they are going to do anything,” said Toussaint. “If he does any action while he’s in office, we will wait and see.”