An Opposition motion calling on the federal government to keep Veterans Affairs district offices open was defeated Monday in the House of Commons.
So Veterans Affairs Canada’s eight area offices in Charlottetown, Kelowna, Saskatoon, Brandon, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Sydney and Corner Brook will remain closed.
All of these other provinces still have other regional offices, except P.E.I. Although Veterans Affairs Canada headquarters is still based in Charlottetown, the province has no area office to deal directly with the concerns and issues of individual war veterans.
If Veterans Affairs had to be downsized, there should still be a presence left in each province.
P.E.I. has 2,200 files that have been handed over to two caseworkers in Saint John, N.B. Even if not all of those are considered “active files,” that’s still a heavy caseload. It still warrants having an area office here.
Of the eight offices closed, only three of them had larger caseloads than P.E.I.’s.
The area office in Sydney, Cape Breton, was dealing with 4,200 cases on file, which will now be handed over to the Halifax office. How can an influx of that many new cases to the Saint John and Halifax offices not have a detrimental effect on the services its clients receive?
The closure of these offices has sparked passionate protests and emotional debate across the country from veterans, their supporters and unions representing the workers in these offices.
These protesters fear veterans will have a harder time getting the help they need. Just looking at the number of caseloads being handed over, that fear appears justified.
Even the Veterans Affairs employees are admitting it’s too much. Michelle Bradley, one of those two caseworkers now handling P.E.I.’s files at the Saint John office, said the wait times are “drastically increasing.”
“I can't service them like I used to service my New Brunswick clients and for that I am terribly ashamed and feeling defeated,” Bradley said during the protest rally held in Charlottetown last week.
The federal government claims that most veterans deal with a client service agent, and a Veterans Affairs Canada-trained agent is now located in the Service Canada office in Charlottetown. Other veterans require special attention and care, so have a caseworker looking after their file.
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino said caseworkers will travel to meet those veterans where they live.
If at least one of those caseworkers is already feeling overwhelmed by her workload, how is she going to be able to fit time to travel to another province into her workday?