Fantino offers some hope for veterans

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Federal VAC minister gives assurances vets won’t have to seek help elsewhere

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.

It seems inappropriate that Charlottetown can be home to the national headquarters of Veterans Affairs Canada, yet is losing its VAC district office, one of eight being closed across the country Jan. 31. So while policy and appeals affecting veterans on a national level are being decided and carried out by approximately 1,100 employees in downtown Charlottetown, a P.E.I. vet seeking individual help on a pension or medical issue is left wondering what will happen after the end of this month.

Until Wednesday, it seemed a veteran might potentially have to drive past the national HQ on Kent Street while on his or her way to Saint John or Halifax to seek help. But that evening, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino offered hope this won’t happen as he addressed concerns in a meeting with veterans and guests at the Charlottetown Legion. There are differing reports on just what the minister promised and how those concerns will be settled, but for the first time the minister stated that any needs will be looked after without a veteran having to leave the province.

What the minister didn’t say, or fully explain, is how the same level of service will be offered in the same time frame. Will a client service agent in a Service Canada office in the Jean Canfield Building be a suitable replacement for an entire district office?

Minister Fantino said the last thing veterans need is to be put in a position of uncertainty, but VAC staff reductions and the district office closure are the root of that uncertainty, brought on by federal decisions. Veterans hope the minister will follow through on his assurances. The real verdict will come from the veterans themselves after Jan. 31.

Here is a suggestion for the minister. Instead of a thin facsimile of a client service rep in Service Canada, VAC should step forward and say there will not be any possible reductions in service because one-on-one meetings between VAC staff and vets will now become part of the operations in the national headquarters. Not only will we look after vets, but we will continue look after them in a fair and timely fashion.

How can you close an office dedicated to serving veterans, and allow the national HQ workplace to decrease by more than 200 staffers and say the same level of service is being offered, that nothing will change?

The federal government made no effort to conceal the fact that nine district offices targeted since last May were being cut to save money, leaving P.E.I. as the only province without a VAC district office. Eight of the nine offices targeted for closure, by coincidence, did not elect Conservative MPs in the last election. A Conservative MP holds a B.C. riding where the lone reversal was made last fall.

Minister Fantino said himself he wants to get the best return for taxpayers’ money as the government continues with its mission of pre-election cutbacks to appeal to the conservative base. Saving taxpayers’ money is fine, but why are veterans groups, legions, unions, civic and other politicians all saying this is wrong, but we should agree with a political minister who is saying it’s the right decision?

Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee and council have been very vocal in opposing the closure and reductions and Monday night unanimously passed a motion asking for a public meeting with Minister Fantino and Island MP Gail Shea over job losses in the P.E.I. capital.

Mayor Lee did attend Wednesday evening’s meeting at the legion and met later, along with several city representatives, with Minister Fantino, but he would not budge. Mayor Lee describes the moves by the federal government as embarrassing and disgraceful. Are you listening, Minister Fantino?

Organizations: Veterans Affairs Canada, Service Canada

Geographic location: Charlottetown, P.E.I., Kent Street Saint John Halifax B.C.

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