3,000 protest Harper’s closure of Veteran’s office in Cape Breton

And why in 2009 did Veterans Affairs destroy 27,381 boxes of veterans’ medical records?

Some 3,000 veterans and their allies showed up in Sydney to rally against the Veterans Affairs office slated closure.

Some 3,000 veterans and their allies showed up in Sydney to rally against the Veterans Affairs office slated closure.

VETERANS in Sydney, Cape Breton and across the country are mobilizing to stop the closure of the nine Veterans Affairs offices they rely on for face-to-face services. Supporting them in Sydney is a chorus of community members, local organizations, Veterans Affairs workers, unions, and every level of local government, all of whom were out in force this past Saturday – two days before Remembrance Day – at the Veterans March of Concern. As part of the March 2012 budget, the Harper dictatorships plans to close the Sydney Veterans Affairs office, which will have a widespread negative effect on over 4200 veterans who rely on their services, as part of its fraudulent austerity agenda to pay the rich. Thirteen case workers will be replaced by a 1-866 telephone number and a Service Canada website. It is also closing other eight offices in Corner Brook, Charlottetown, Windsor, Thunder Bay, Brandon, Saskatoon, Kelowna and Prince George.

The popular rally in Cape Breton was the latest manifestation of organized resistance against the neo-liberal cutbacks. On October 3rd, 2013 residents of Sydney attended a town hall meeting at Branch 12 of the Royal Canadian Legion that was organized by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).

The PSAC is calling the government out on its justification for the planned closure of the nine Veterans Affairs district offices across Canada.

Sydney crow listens to speeches

Sydney crowd listens to speeches from veterans, union reps and political figures

The union said the government’s reasoning for the office closures is flawed and a betrayal of veterans. PSAC, which represents case managers working at the district offices, says the Prince George office is already closed.

The district offices provide crucial services to veterans, including home visits for veterans who can’t easily leave their homes, walking veterans through paperwork, and providing resources, psychiatric and medical care for traumatized war vets.

In communities where closures are underway, veterans will be directed to Service Canada locations to access assistance. Veterans Affairs issued a series of lavish newspaper ads last week promoting the support it provides to veterans, including the Service Canada centres. According to PSAC, Veterans Affairs has still not notified affected veterans about the closures.

Another view of the large rally demanding that government provide public service

Another view of the large rally demanding that government provide public service

The union issued a press release Friday critiquing the government’s justification for the closures. While Veterans Affairs has said the closures reflect the changing demographic of Canada’s veterans, the union disagrees. PSAC recognized that the number of traditional veterans has decreased, but highlighted the increasing number of younger veterans, who still require the assistance of case managers and district offices. “Younger veterans, such as those returning from Afghanistan, tend to have more complex needs, such as those who have been diagnosed with serious mental health conditions as a result of their deployment,” read the press release Friday.

According to PSC, the “traditional” veteran population has decreased from 63,000 to 49,000, but the effect of the Harper government’s militarization means that the regular forces veteran population has increased from 68,000 to 76,000. The average age of the current 594,000 active service people is 56.

Veteran Terry Collins answers a question during a press conference held by Veterans and PSAC members in Ottawa on Oct. 3, 2013, where those spoke against the closure of Veteran’s Affairs offices.  iPolitics/ Matthew Usherwood

Veteran Terry Collins answers a question during a press conference held by Veterans and PSAC members in Ottawa on Oct. 3, 2013, where those spoke against the closure of Veteran’s Affairs offices. iPolitics/ Matthew Usherwood

The changes further marginalize these veterans. The government has said that doctors, nurses or case workers will travel to veterans’ homes if they have trouble traveling to a Veterans Affairs office. But PSAC said there’s a catch. “Only veterans who have case managers receive home visits from Veterans Affairs. Clients without case-managed files will have to travel to the closest remaining Veterans Affairs office for in-person services,” read the release. This means that veterans in Sydney will have to drive five or six hours to Halifax while veterans in Corner Brook will have to travel eight hours to St. John’s. And for veterans in Charlottetown, the closest district office would be a province over in Saint John.

PSAC also has concerns about the treatment of veterans at Service Canada centres, where attendants do not have the special training required to work with veterans and their specific needs.

According to a report by Miles Howe of the Halifax Media Co-op, Jim Karygiannis, federal Liberal Veterans Affairs critic who spoke at the Sydney rally, suggested that the issue of office closures is only the tip of the iceberg of the Conservative government’s grander scheme of leaving veterans without recourse to assistance or programming. Karygiannis noted that he has been made aware that in 2009, the department of Veterans Affairs ordered 27,381 boxes of veterans” medical records destroyed. Karygiannis could not even hesitate a guess as to how many records were contained within each box, but is it safe to say it’s probably more than one, Mr Howe reports.

“I can’t do the math because I don’t know how many records were in each box,” says Karygiannis. “But the question is, were those vets notified? I know of three vets, whose files I’m working on, who had medical records that were [destroyed].” Nevertheless all the Liberals can do is blame the government instead of advancing pro-social policies.

Why should the veterans and people of Canada agree to base their future on things over which they have no control and which violently express themselves by upsetting their lives and well-being? The Harper war government should be stopped in its place.

Sources: http://www.ipolitics.ca, CBC, PSAC, Miles Howe

Leave a comment

Filed under No Harbour for War (Halifax), Working Class

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s