Veterans Affairs office closures: Questions and Answers

Can’t veterans get the services they need from Service Canada locations, as well as online and through the phone, when these offices close?

  • Veterans Affairs workers receive specialized, ongoing training because Veterans Affairs services and programs, like the needs of veterans, are vast and complex and always evolving. Service Canada workers have received very limited training about Veterans Affairs services and programs, so can only answer general questions and supply and receive forms. They cannot sit down with veterans to help them fill out their applications for benefits and services or check to ensure that forms are properly completed. One mistake can result in the denial of benefits to a veteran.
  • Service Canada workers cannot access veterans’ files and therefore cannot give advice or guidance related to individual cases. Veterans Affairs workers do access those files and have often built long term relationships with clients so are much more able to understand and respond to their needs. This is especially important for veterans with complex physical and mental health conditions.
  • PSAC represents the workers at Service Canada too. They’d 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.

What about the Minister’s plan to place a Veterans Affairs worker in the Service Canada outlets where Veterans Affairs offices are closing?

  • It just isn’t possible for one worker to make up for the number of front line workers being lost when these offices close. Closing the Sydney office, for example, means losing 13 front line workers. In Thunder Bay, the closure means losing seven front line workers.
  • Veterans say they need their own space in which to access these services. These offices have been set up with veterans’ needs in mind. They have reception areas designed for veterans and their families and private interview rooms for meetings with Client Service Agents and Case Managers. They also have examination rooms where veterans can meet with nurses and other healthcare practitioners.

If a veteran has trouble travelling to a VAC office, medical or other facilities, can’t doctors, nurses or case workers go to the residence of the veteran?

  • 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 that require access to their file or expertise in Veterans Affairs programs and services. With the exception of travel for pension-related medical appointments, veterans must cover their own travel costs.
  • WFor 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. Given these distances, and given that there will be fewer Case Managers working once the offices close, it is unlikely veterans will still receive the home visits they need when they need them.
  • The government has not committed to adding staff to the offices taking on clients from offices they want to close. This means increased caseloads, longer wait times for home visits and less service for all the veterans being served by those offices. If the government goes ahead with the Sydney closure, for example, more than 4,200 client files, including 120 case-managed files, will be transferred to Halifax.

Don’t veterans have access to Operational Stress Injury Clinics and Integrated Personnel Support Centres too?

  • There are no Operational Stress Injury Clinics or Integrated Personnel Support Centres in the communities where the government wants to shut down Veterans Affairs offices.

Don’t these closures reflect the changing demographics of Canada’s veterans?

  • Altogether the nine offices the government wants to close serve more than 17,000 veterans and their family members. Those numbers demonstrate the closures simply don’t make sense.
  • In the last two years, the number of traditional veterans served by Veterans Affairs has decreased from 63,000 to 49,000. But the number of Regular Force Veterans served by Veterans Affairs has increased from 68,000 to 76,000. That number will continue to increase.  In 2013, the average age of the 594,300 Canadian Forces veterans is 56. And none of these numbers include family members, survivors and the RCMP who are served by Veterans’ Affairs.
  • As older veterans age they require more care and services.  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.

The government says it has invested almost $5 billion in new funding to improve Veterans benefits, programs and services,and that close to 90% of the department’s budget goes towards direct services and support for Veterans. Isn’t this enough?

  • Any investments this government has made are spread over many years and don’t make up for cuts to front-line services for veterans. In fact, the government has cut the budget for Veterans Affairs by $129 million since 2011. A further $132 million in cuts are planned by 2016. In total 784 jobs will be cut including case managers, client service agents, disability pension officers, nurses and administrative staff who process all the claims. Veterans and their families must be able to access the benefits and services available or the investment is meaningless.