Case worker overwhelmed by new Veterans Affairs' workload

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Veteran Ron Clarke, at the podium, joins fellow veterans, including Charlottetown's Alban LeClair, second from right, as they hold a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday.

One of two Veterans Affairs' case workers handling files from Charlottetown says she is completely overwhelmed with the workload.

Michelle Bradley and a colleague have split more than 2,200 veterans' files from P.E.I. between them.

They are the people tasked with helping Island veterans now that the district office in Charlottetown has closed -- although that closure doesn't become official until Friday.

"You walk away from the office every day feeling defeated and ashamed because you can't help these (veterans, which) is now my job to do,'' Bradley said in a telephone interview from Ottawa on Wednesday morning.

Bradley was waiting for her flight back to Saint John, where she works, after accompanying a group of veterans, including P.E.I.'s own Alban LeClair, trying to convince federal Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino to change his mind about closing nine district offices across the country.

Bradley is one of two client services agents assigned to look after the more than 2,000 veterans on P.E.I.

"We've already taken on files from the Charlottetown office. The impact that I have seen already is that the wait times are increasing for veterans. They are waiting weeks for phone calls back. We just don't have the time to service them the way the Charlottetown office did,'' said Bradley, who has been a client services agent with Veterans Affairs Canada since 2001.

She is now responsible for 1,100 veterans on the Island.

LeClair and his fellow veterans were supposed to meet Fantino Tuesday night to talk about the closures but things didn't go according to plan.

"We're all pretty agitated about the whole thing,'' LeClair said Wednesday. "The minister was supposed to meet with us at a certain time and he didn't show. However, he sent a couple of his (staffers) along and they didn't answer the questions in a way that was expected.

"(Fantino) showed up when we were ready to leave and he shook hands with everyone and that's when he got the blast from some of the older veterans.''

Bradley said Fantino was very "dismissive'' towards the veterans.

"He came in with a prepared message and he just kept repeating it. When the veterans tried to vocalize their displeasure with what's going on, it wasn't what he wanted to hear so he just wouldn't listen at all. It was very disrespectful, the way they were treated.''

Fantino told reporters Wednesday he’s sorry for the way it was handled and doesn’t want it to be seen as a reflection on his commitment to the men and women in uniform.

The Conservatives were in full damage control mode as both opposition parties joined veterans in demanding Fantino be fired over his brusque handling of the meeting — something the minister later said he “absolutely regrets.”

Some veterans, stung by the encounter, refused to accept his apology.

Bradley said the veterans group met with representatives from the federal NDP and Liberal parties and was given assurances both would re-open the district offices should they form the next government.

Organizations: Veterans Affairs Canada, Conservatives, NDP

Geographic location: P.E.I., Charlottetown, Ottawa Saint John

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