Robyn Benson’s final appeal to Stephen Harper

Veterans and their families have spoken out about why they need the face-to-face services these offices provide. These closures mean the loss of 90 front line workers including twenty-five Case Managers who work with high-risk veterans, and twenty-one Client Service Agents who have the expertise to help veterans access the programs and benefits for which they qualify. The offices also had administrative staff, local managers, pension officers, nurses and occupational therapists. None of these people are dispensable.


The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0X6

Dear Prime Minister:

I am writing to urgently appeal to you to step in and stop the closure of eight Veterans Affairs offices today.

Veterans and their families have spoken out about why they need the face-to-face services these offices provide. These closures mean the loss of 90 front line workers including twenty-five Case Managers who work with high-risk veterans, and twenty-one Client Service Agents who have the expertise to help veterans access the programs and benefits for which they qualify. The offices also had administrative staff, local managers, pension officers, nurses and occupational therapists. None of these people are dispensable.

Your government says that veterans can now go to the more than 600 Service Canada offices across the country to get the services they need. But only eight of these offices will have only one Veterans Affairs worker on hand. In the other 592 plus offices, Service Canada workers are only trained to provide general information and forms. They do not have the time or training to sit with veterans to help them properly complete these forms. Service Canada workers cannot access veterans’ files and therefore cannot advise on individual cases. They are not a substitute for the dedicated and fully trained Veterans Affairs workers who have developed long-term relationships with their clients and who are able to understand and respond to veterans, particularly those with complex physical and mental health conditions.

PSAC represents the workers at Service Canada too. We know they would like to do more for our veterans, but it is unrealistic to expect them to have the same degree of expertise. They are often left with no choice but to point veterans to the computer or the toll-free phone line for help. Veterans tell us the phone line and Internet are problematic, especially for those who are older or living with PTSD and other mental health challenges.

Your government has assured veterans that if they cannot travel for services they’ll receive services at home. But the office closures in the eight communities mean the loss of 25 Case Managers from the system. The client files are being transferred to Case Managers in other offices who already have an average of 40 clients. Given the distances and additional caseloads, it is impossible to understand how Case Managers will be able to maintain the same level of service to high-risk veterans – whether through home visits, telephone check-ins or office visits.

Clients without case-managed files will have to travel to the closest remaining Veterans Affairs office for in-person service. With the exception of travel for pension-related medical appointments, veterans must cover their own travel costs.

For veterans in Thunder Bay, the office closure means traveling to North Bay, 13 hours away. For veterans in Sydney, the closure means a five to six hour drive to Halifax. For veterans in Corner Brook, it means an eight hour drive to St. John’s. For veterans in Charlottetown, it would mean traveling out of province to Saint John. In Brandon, the nearest office is only a 30 to 45 minute drive away in Shilo, but veterans point out that there is no public transportation and most can’t afford the round trip taxi fare of about $60.

These closures will mean less service for veterans in other communities too. Your government has not committed to adding staff to the offices that will be taking on more work as a result of the closures.  These offices are already overburdened because they have fewer staff now than they did in 2012. Veterans served by these offices will have longer wait times.

The cost of keeping the Veterans Affairs offices open is relatively small.  The hardship caused by the closures will be enormous and irreparable. Veterans have the respect and admiration and support of Canadians.  Prime Minister, we ask that you reverse your decision, keep the eight offices scheduled for closure open and re-open the office in Prince George on behalf of all citizens.

Sincerely,

Robyn Benson,
National President