Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 was a day of infamy in Sydney. The government closed our Veterans Affairs Canada office. A large crowd of supporters — about 1,000 — attended the wake.
This closure is no big deal for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He says the offices that were closed were “duplicate VAC offices with small case loads.” Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino stated that, in fact, his department has broadened support for veterans — on military bases, at service centres, through a government website, a call centre and VAC offices that were left open. Where communities lost their VAC facilities, one trained case worker would be available.
Then Erin O’Toole, a Conservative MP for Durham, Ont., weighed in. He said that the legion itself remains the most important face-to-face contact for veterans needing help, namely through its service officers, more or less making it possible to reduce VAC offices.
Let’s put these statements to the test. I was a legion service officer — dedicated and properly trained — for nine years. It is true, as Mr. O’Toole asserts, that I was the first point of contact for veterans needing assistance. I assisted them as best I could, then turned them over to the administrative experts at the local VAC office. I was no substitute for the professionals. I did not do the bulk of the work at all, as Mr. O’Toole asserted. Some needy veterans did not even consult me.
Now I shall deal with the statements of Mr. Harper and Mr. Fantino, neither of whom know much about VAC offices. The Sydney office, for example, supported the second highest number of veterans handled by closed VAC offices: 4,200.
At least 130 very needy veterans were served by four case managers. Approximately 50 per cent of the clients are on disability pensions. They were served by client service agents. At least 12 per cent are war service vets, some of whom have pensions and many of whom have special needs. I have seen the paperwork necessary to look after them.
Then you have the 15 per cent who are Canadian Forces veterans, handled mostly by client service agents. Their files are open. There are approximately 80 RCMP officers needing attention. That’s about two per cent. Finally, 21 per cent of the clients are surviving spouses of veterans, many of them elderly. The Sydney office was hardly a duplicate VAC office with a small case load.
The 130 very needy veterans — the case-managed — are now served by one case worker at a government service centre, or else they can drive about 400 kilometres to Halifax where no new personnel will be hired to assist them. Will the one case worker be trained?
Do you not think it was a huge mistake for the Tory government to take on the veterans? Do you not think it shameful? Since we intend to keep the disgraceful decision to close VAC offices alive, the price for Mr. Harper and his supporters will be steep.