OTTAWA – A group of ex-soldiers, some from the Second World War, are trying to step up pressure on the Harper government to halt the closure of Veterans Affairs regional offices.
Offices in Kelowna, B.C., Saskatoon, Brandon, Man., Thunder Bay, Ont., Windsor, Ont., Sydney, N.S., Charlottetown and Corner Brook, N.L., are slated to shut down Friday as part of a move to more online and remote services. A ninth office has already closed in Prince George, B.C.
Seven veterans, including Roy Lamore whose service dates back to the 1940s, says he and others feel betrayed by a government that promised to take care of them and younger soldiers.
“These closures will put veterans at risk,” Lamore, a resident of Thunder Bay, told a Parliament Hill news conference. “I hope the government is listening. Why do we, as veterans, have to beg?”
Former corporal Bruce Moncur, who was wounded in Afghanistan in 2006, says the online system has increased frustration even among his Internet-savvy friends seeking benefits and treatment.
Filling out forms and navigating the department’s bureaucratic maze has taken him up to a week, he said, when just one office visit would have sorted it out in a morning.
Moncur, who suffered a shrapnel wound to the head, says he believes it’s a deliberate strategy to reduce use of services.
“When you keep getting the door slammed in your face, you just end up giving up,” he said. “It’s the no-go policy. If you’re told No enough times, you’ll go away.”
The inability to access services, particularly mental health, could have dire consequences, other veterans warned.
They pointed to the recent suicide crisis within the Canadian military. One ex-soldier at the news conference soberly recounted the struggle of a comrade, who took his own life years after being wounded in Cyprus.
The Harper government plans a series of commemorations this year to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France, as well as the centennial of the start of the First World War.
“It’s really convenient to show yourself in such a commemorative way, except services are required,” said Moncur. “I think the money would be better spent to help veterans that need the help.”
The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents Veterans Affairs staff, has been running a high-profile campaign against the closures. One of the frontline workers, Michelle Bradley, said she feels defeated and ashamed because veterans will no longer get the personal service they deserve.
The delegation of veterans will get an opportunity to voice their concern to the minister, Julian Fantino, at a meeting expected late Tuesday.