Thursday, July 30, 2015

Veterans’ Affairs closures to be election issue: NDP

“They fought for us; now it’s our turn to fight for them.”
The Veterans Affairs Canada office in Thunder Bay closed its doors for the final time earlier this month, joining eight others like it across the country, but Nova Scotia MP Peter Stoffer said the NDP isn’t giving up the fight.

Stoffer, the party’s critic for veterans affairs who is touring the country to gather public input, joined local MP John Rafferty for a town-hall meeting on the topic last Thursday at the local Legion, where he said the closures will be an election issue.
“Unfortunately, the government has made the decision that these offices have closed and that’s it,” he noted.
“We said very clearly that if we were elected government, we would re-open those offices.
“So, obviously, nothing is going to happen in terms of office openings or anything of that nature until the next election,” Stoffer added.
“We’ll let the people decide whether that’s an issue or not.”
The Harper government closed down the offices and instead is trying to deliver services to veterans through Service Canada personnel, home visits, and online.
But Stoffer is certain the level of service is far less than what veterans deserve.
“We just heard the story today of a gentleman, a Word War II veteran, who called the office,” Stoffer remarked. “They said they’d get back to him.
“Twenty-four days later they got back to him.
“The man is a World War II veteran—he doesn’t have 24 minutes, let alone 24 days,” Stoffer stressed.
“Why the delay in that?
“And then he gets a call from someone that he says didn’t appear to understand his situation,” continued Stoffer. “Then he gets some money from Blue Cross with no explanation of it.
“That shows you the confusion the department is having in the transformation of all of this.”
“And this is WWII and Korean vets—this gentleman doesn’t have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], he just wants basic help around the house,” Stoffer stressed.
“What do you do with someone who’s 26 years old with severe PTSD who has already lost wife, may become addicted to a variety of drugs or alcohol or gambling, or may be abusive to people around him?” he mused.
“Do you think he’s going to stay on the phone and wait for 24 days? Do you think he’s going to go to a Service Canada office, where there’s six guys in front of him getting their E.I. or CPP or passport?
On the other hand, if the Veterans’ Affairs offices had remained open, Stoffer said veterans would be able to meet with staff experienced in dealing with veterans’ issues, who would get to know their veteran clients, assist them, do the proper paperwork, and, in cases of PTSD, help calm them down.
Stoffer made it clear he doesn’t blame the Service Canada workers who now have to do yet another job.
“They’re being dumped on with a whole pile of extra work,” he noted, adding the situation is even worse because Service Canada also has seen staff cuts, which has led to delays to E.I. and CPP claims.
“So now we’re going to tell these great workers, who are not trained, how to deal with some very serious issues with veterans? No.”
Stoffer noted WWII veterans are passing away each day, but there’s more “modern-day veterans coming down the pipe with many concerns.”
He added some veterans and their dependents are so frustrated by the bureaucracy that they’ve thrown their hands up.
Stoffer and Rafferty also gathered signatures on a petition calling on the House of Commons to restore funding and re-open Veterans Affairs Canada offices in the nine locations (Thunder Bay, Brandon, Saskatoon, Kelowna, Prince George, Windsor, Cornerbrooke, Sydney, and Charlottetown).
Stoffer is getting signatures wherever he goes.
Rafferty explained that with petitions, the government has to acknowledge and answer them.
“It doesn’t mean they have to act on them,” he remarked. “But if you send enough of them in, hopefully they’re going to get the idea that the citizens of Canada are not very happy.”
Last Thursday’s town-hall meeting here was attended by about a dozen people, including members of the local advocacy group, Seniors Retirees Against Pension and Elder Abuse (SRAPEA), which made a presentation.
Ed Haglund, a Legion member who also chairs SRAPEA’s activities committee, submitted a copy of the presentation to Stoffer.
In the submission, Haglund said the service cuts and office closures show the Conservative government ignored protests registered by Canadian veterans, their spouses and family members, and the thousands of Canadians who support them, without regard to any of their concerns, including the recent rash of suicides.
“The cuts will unfairly overload and increase the caseloads of the remaining staff, which will be an extremely stressful situation that only denigrates from the responsibility this government has to the veterans and their families—a move which we find to be insensitive, cruel, and arbitrary,” he noted.
“Moving support service online or to Services Canada is an insult to the needs and commitments made to all veterans, especially those suffering with PTSD,” Haglund added.
“They will, in many cases, fall through the cracks and will never get the true help they really need or were promised,” he warned.
The SRAPEA finds it troubling that these veterans will have to stand in line behind those applying for E.I. benefits or filling out passport forms, or the other many forms Service Canada handles on a daily basis.
And then after waiting in line, they will have to deal with staff that are not trained to handle situations that face these veterans on a daily basis.
“How will Service Canada staff understand the hidden wounds, the cognitive issues, and the immediate needs of the vets?” asked Haglund.
“In our opinion, they can’t,” he added. “As such, veterans, especially those with PTSD, are at high risk.
“These closures are foolhardy, cruel, and unconscionable,” Haglund stressed.
The office closures may create an environment where suicides related to PTSD could increase.
SRAPEA suggested that perhaps a lawsuit, on behalf of the veterans for breach of promises and benefits, could be brought against the federal government?
Or maybe the provincial ombudsmen from all provinces could work with their federal counterpart to help protect veterans’ benefits and undo the negative effects the closures have had on veterans?
Haglund noted Veterans Affairs minister Julian Fantino should be fired, and Harper and his cronies voted out in the next election.
“The ballot box may be our only sword,” he remarked.
The SRAPEA also pointed out there have been cuts to the national Sea Cadets program.
“To require our youth in the Sea Cadet program to now purchase their own uniforms is ridiculous, especially to those families who can least afford to subsidize the cost of this youth program,” said Haglund.
“These cuts truly discriminate against the poor, and the Conservative government ought to be ashamed of having proposed and made these cuts,” he added.
Haglund also said further cuts to the Sea Cadets, such as the elimination of national marksmanship and biathlon competitions this year, are “absolutely intolerable and tragic.”
He noted these events were starting points for some of Canada’s greatest Olympians over the years, such as Phillippe Le Gallia, Nikki Keddie, and Myriam Bedard.

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