Progressive Views: Government insults veterans

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by Tristan Turner

Veterans Affairs has closed nine of their service offices across Canada in a move that Minister Julian Fantino says will ensure that veterans have “support in the communities where they live.”

While most employees at these offices will be fired, Minister Fantino has announced that there will be one remaining worker at each office that will travel to veterans homes to offer them services. With these changes, eight employees will be tasked with 17,000 cases (some veterans requiring services over 500 kilometers from their office), something the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees, and many veterans themselves, say is impossible.

Julian Fantino was asked to meet with a group of veterans in Ottawa regarding these cuts, and after showing up to the meeting late, he treated the veterans he met with in a way that was “unbelievable, unacceptable and shameful”, according to veteran Ronald Clarke. During a portion of the meeting that was recorded by CBC News, the Minister deflected questions asked by veterans by saying that “this finger pointing stuff doesn’t work well with me.”

After the minister’s meeting, veterans held a press conference where Paul Davis said “it’s a bunch of bullshit is all we get from this politician…and I’d like to see him resign”, while Ronald Clarke, another veteran, said that he would be campaigning against the Conservatives “across Canada” in the next election. Later on, a veteran broke down in tears while speaking about the Ministers treatment of Canada’s former service men and women.

Concerned volunteers and employees are also raising concerns about the closures. PEI volunteer Alban LeChar claimed “before they started shutting down Charlottetown district office, a veteran could get a home visit within a couple of days. Now it takes up to six weeks to contact the veteran. And six weeks is a long time for a 93-year-old veteran, and even young veterans suffering with PTSD.”

While the Minister claims veterans will now be able access support at over 600 Service Canada locations, he misses that the scope of services, and the ability of Service Canada employees to deliver them, is in no means comparable to those offered by Veterans Affairs employees who are trained to assist veterans, many of whom have complex mental health issues. Fantino has also failed to explain why the current offices must close so veterans can be shuffled into lines at Service Canada centres.

Our veterans have given so much of themselves for our country and for justice at home and abroad. Many of them have fallen in combat, or have had developed serious mental health issues as a result of their courageous service in the interest of world peace. Bottom line, the very least that may be expected of Canadians and our government that only exist today because of the valour of our veterans is to treat them with dignity and respect. Service men and women have not faltered in their duty, so why is this government abandoning its responsibility to ensure veterans are able to have access to the services that many require to survive after experiencing the horrors of war?

Minister Fantino and the Harper government have insulted veterans with these cuts, and they are likely to be made responsible for them in the next election.