Veterans welcome emergency committee meeting

Nancy King
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They say they've heard of difficulties since office closures

SYDNEY — Ron Clarke says he hopes an emergency meeting of a Nova Scotia legislative committee will show Ottawa that there is widespread concern about the impact of the recent closure of Veterans Affairs offices.

The veteran from Georges River says he will appear at the meeting, to take place in Sydney Monday, and answer the committee members’ questions.

The Sydney office was among those that closed two weeks ago, despite an outcry from veterans and their supporters. Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino has been invited to the session, but it now appears that he won't be attending.

An emailed response from Fantino's office on Friday evening said: "Due to previous commitments to his constituents, Minister Fantino will not be able to attend the committee meeting."

The federal government has insisted veterans will not see a decline in the availability of services and the number of access points will actually increase as they now seek assistance through Service Canada offices.

“Not at all,” Clarke said when asked what he believed the likelihood was of Fantino showing up for the meeting, before final word had come from Ottawa that Fantino would be a no-show. “He’d be quite worried, sitting in amongst all them Liberals, so I’m sure he wouldn’t show up.

“Come on down, Mr. Fantino, and take your licks.”

The committee is chaired by Cape Breton Liberal MLA Pam Eyking, who represents Victoria-The Lakes. Two rallies in Sydney to save the office attracted thousands of supporters, while Clarke and other veterans from across the country had a brief meeting with Fantino that ended badly.

Clarke said he’s glad the meeting is taking place and it’s his understanding other provinces plan to take similar steps and making resolutions asking the Harper Conservative government to reconsider the closures.

“With all that political support for the veterans, they might just change their minds,” he said.

The veterans criticized the minister for failing to address their concerns and issued a plea for him to resign, which was rebuffed by both Fantino and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Since the office closed, when Clarke had to access assistance through Service Canada he said he was fortunate enough to be able to connect with a former Veterans Affairs worker.

“It was a good experience because the person that I went to see was the director at the old Sydney office,” he said. “He was able to help me out. If he wasn’t there, it might have been a different story.”

He said he’s had conversations with other veterans who haven’t been so lucky and have had difficulty getting the assistance they required. He’s heard anecdotally from people who attended Service Canada offices in Glace Bay and on the Northside who said that while personnel there were very polite and made attempts at being helpful, they indicated the best they could do was to “maybe get on the computer and pull up forms for them.

“That’s not acceptable at all,” he said.

Vince Rigby, a veteran who staged sit-ins at the Veterans Affairs office in the days leading up to the closure, said he has had some difficulties in his initial encounters with Service Canada. He noted that he undergoes a reassessment every two years and had to provide paperwork in support of it.

“Usually it goes out the day you drop it off and he said it would probably take a couple of days,” Rigby said. “He couldn’t really give me any information about my case or anything because he didn’t have nothing in front of him and he had to do some more training and all kinds of stuff.

“I have a tonne of paperwork to do and I have no councillor to guide me.”

He said he’s heard similar complaints from veterans who attended other offices, where they had to speak with workers unfamiliar with veterans’ programs and who normally deal with employment insurance inquiries. Rigby added he also intends to attend Monday’s meeting.

nking@cbpost.com

Organizations: Veterans Affairs, Service Canada

Geographic location: Sydney, Georges River, Ottawa Cape Breton Glace Bay

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  • e m sanford
    February 16, 2014 - 18:54

    A few corrections here....no new staff being hired in Halifax. 3 Case Managers are replacing 3 that have taken the 3 from Sydneys layoffs. No new Client Service Agents. 3 MAY be made permanent if permission is received. That will still leave the Halifax office down to less than half (due to layoffs) and with that is not counting the 4 going from Sydney. Each Case Manager will keep their average 40 Case Managed clients, no matter where they are located. The Client Service Agent will have over 1300 clients. No new staff hires. A reassessment of a pensioned condition is completed by a VAC doctor and that will now be in Halifax because there will be not a VAC doctor in Sydney nor will they visit you in your home. As good as computers as well as the contact centers people are to use there still has to be an actual person to approve benefits. With less than half the staff this will take a very long time. Many Veterans do not have that time.

  • Caper
    February 16, 2014 - 14:48

    So it was just on the news that the files for the veterans are going to be in the hands of an American company! Talk about adding insult to injury! I have no faith in the current government. Harper and Fantino must be made to leave their jobs!

    • Dave from Barrie
      February 16, 2014 - 17:51

      In reply to more fear mongering and misinformation from folks on this site I would like to point out that Iron Mountain is most likely the most secure company to manage any data that is out there. My company in Ontario has been using Iron Mountain for 8 years plus and they have a far more airtight system than I would say most government departments.Their clients are blue chip companies, municipal, provincial and federal goverments departments.If Caper would like to travel to cities like Montreal, Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver he will see lots of Iron Mountain trucks travelling from company to company picking up hard copy paper to be stored at secure undisclosed locations across Canada. Outsourcing of critical infrastructure data is the norm these days and this company is probably number one in its field...They have a very large Canadian presence. On another note what would a person in lets say Iowa or Texas think of their consumer data being kept in a call centre in Cape Breton....Sadly the rhetoric has to stop and this new system be given time to work. People also have to think of the repercussions of their comments prior to posting.

  • e m sanford
    February 15, 2014 - 14:52

    Correction, the office is still open, just not to clients. February 28, 2014 is the official closing date.

  • Local VET/DVA Client
    February 15, 2014 - 12:52

    Okay the the misinformation is starting again...Mr RIGBY the forms you talk about are to filled out by your Doctor(s)..not by VAC employees....it's YOUR pensionable condition not the employees....the forms are self -explanatory.....you can easily access your file on the VAC website...you or somebody in your family must have a computer?YOU have a reassessment.... did the counselor do up your original application for VAC??? you must have some knowledge of the system..... to do the reassessment ..a doctor 's report is required ...REQUEST it... or note it in your claim and VAC will request it..........it is not ROCKET science.If you have a mental condition that makes the application difficult...DVAwill no doubt assist you do to your circumstances....saying this guy had this issue or that guy had another issue ....Because the VAC person was not there ..really does not hold water....No one gets same day service and response at VAC,you request a service and they get back to you....if you meet the criteria for the claim.....VAC has always worked that way....don't give the impression ..you go in the office and this VAC person solves all your issues....it NEVER happens that way they have ruls and policies to follow....don't mislead the public in believing that........This whole story is nothing buta political football ..your being used by the Liberals or who ever....do you think FANTINO does not know that?? as far as the mail goes ..whether it's VAC clients mail or Joe Blow from Glace Bay ..the mail off CB goes on the same truck or plane.......people will tire of this over blown RHETERIC and political bantering.......as far as the Prov veterans committe goes ..they have about as much clout as the local boys and girls club.... When the poop hit the fan last month.. Pam EYKING the Chairperson was in the sun in AUSTRALIA....from the interview on TV here mind is still there....As a local VET and some one who uses and knows the system...VAC is not as bad as you portray.....give the new system a CHANCE......Don't portray to the uniformed public who read this newspaper that you guys are being treated like smut and disgrace ...that's terribly misleading .....you have military pensions,disability and or a DVA pension that's ahell of a lot more than JOE Blow has..............Give the new system a chance IF it is as bad as you say it is the VAC OMBUDSMAN will no doubt deal with it.......Try a calmer approach as VETS..not as POLITICAL PAWNS for people trying to keep their redundant jobs!!

    • Mrs Rigby
      February 15, 2014 - 20:50

      Dear Local Vet/DVA Client.You are sooo misinformed yourself. The Application for Benefits is 18 pages long. Put on another 10 for the Doctor's report that sounds like 28 pages to me. Add it up I don't know where you got your infor. My file is not accessed on the computer nor is it even in Sydney. If you should know it took me more then 6 years to get dignosed because most of my Personal file was destoryed because of the This Government and the Area in which I served while in Peacekeeping Bosina and Yugoslavia. Yes I have gone to the DVA Sydney office and they have helped me the same day with questions and given me direction on obtaining the infor I needed. When I went to the Service Center there was an untrained staff member there. We were told that we would have no trouble with our questions, but were lied again.As for your Arrogant comment about me having pension you should live my life.Headaches everyday, Depression, weight loss, vision loss the list goes on. Your an idot. I was a healthy men working as a wielder making good money before I went Peacekeeping now I can not work. This puts stress on my wife and family. I was healthy going over there and returned sick. HOW DARE YOU.I did not say DVA was bad at any time. I have nothing but good things to say about the help I recieved I just feel that we deserve the same treatment now and we are not. In closing as an x military individual when our backs were up against we were taught to fight. Not only is this for the older Vets but for the Younger ones too. Its also for the men and women who are afraid to come forth because of attitudes of people like you.

    • Good Point Local VET
      February 16, 2014 - 16:21

      Local Vet you make some good points EVERY VAC client has an accessable account..an account not your Whole file ...it shows you are in the system ....and we should have patience and see where this new system takes us down the road.A lot of the VETS do not know that and thank you for pointing it out......MRS Rigby??? is confusing me...technically there are still VAC people there it does not close until the end of the month....I don't know who he oe she was talking to....If it is re-assessment...it is not an application for benefits ..it is an Application for re-assessment...if he did not get the answers he wanted there did he or she call the 1-800 # ..it is free...I found them great to deal with and I have the same symptoms as MR RIGBY.......he says his file was destroyed because of this GOVT.. while serving in Bosnia..I believe the Liberals were in power then.....not this bunch.......In fact there had been improvements initially by this govt ..especially in hearing claims..... and like you I really appreciate my pensions.....I signed the dotted line..knew the risks..and came back home from Bosnia ,other UN postings and Afghanistan after 30 years.....(I lost part of a limb).......I do not think you are an idiot ..in fact you are telling it like it is.....and serving and non-serving vets ..need a different point of view to what is currently being put in the media....a lot of it is misleading..and that there is still help out there from VAC..... for RIGBY and others ....just have some patience...name calling does nothing but reflect on you....

  • Local VET/DVA Client
    February 15, 2014 - 12:51

    Okay the the misinformation is starting again...Mr RIGBY the forms you talk about are to filled out by your Doctor(s)..not by VAC employees....it's YOUR pensionable condition not the employees....the forms are self -explanatory.....you can easily access your file on the VAC website...you or somebody in your family must have a computer?YOU have a reassessment.... did the counselor do up your original application for VAC??? you must have some knowledge of the system..... to do the reassessment ..a doctor 's report is required ...REQUEST it... or note it in your claim and VAC will request it..........it is not ROCKET science.If you have a mental condition that makes the application difficult...DVAwill no doubt assist you do to your circumstances....saying this guy had this issue or that guy had another issue ....Because the VAC person was not there ..really does not hold water....No one gets same day service and response at VAC,you request a service and they get back to you....if you meet the criteria for the claim.....VAC has always worked that way....don't give the impression ..you go in the office and this VAC person solves all your issues....it NEVER happens that way they have ruls and policies to follow....don't mislead the public in believing that........This whole story is nothing buta political football ..your being used by the Liberals or who ever....do you think FANTINO does not know that?? as far as the mail goes ..whether it's VAC clients mail or Joe Blow from Glace Bay ..the mail off CB goes on the same truck or plane.......people will tire of this over blown RHETERIC and political bantering.......as far as the Prov veterans committe goes ..they have about as much clout as the local boys and girls club.... When the poop hit the fan last month.. Pam EYKING the Chairperson was in the sun in AUSTRALIA....from the interview on TV here mind is still there....As a local VET and some one who uses and knows the system...VAC is not as bad as you portray.....give the new system a CHANCE......Don't portray to the uniformed public who read this newspaper that you guys are being treated like smut and disgrace ...that's terribly misleading .....you have military pensions,disability and or a DVA pension that's ahell of a lot more than JOE Blow has..............Give the new system a chance IF it is as bad as you say it is the VAC OMBUDSMAN will no doubt deal with it.......Try a calmer approach as VETS..not as POLITICAL PAWNS for people trying to keep their redundant jobs!!

    • In the Know
      February 16, 2014 - 12:20

      If these poor, uneducated, misguided Veterans are just silly political pawns for people trying to keep their redundant jobs, then please inform us why the Halifax District Office has relocated 3 of the Case Managers and are hiring the same number of people in Halifax that they have let go in Sydney in order to manage the workload?? The Halifax office is in crisis themselves!! Sounds like the only uninformed person attempting to misguide the public is YOU! The only intelligible comment in your statement is give the new system a chance. Do so, as it is already failing terribly! Sadly, once the Halifax clients begin to see that they are affected just as greatly and have longer wait times for benefits and services, something will be done.

    • Try the new system
      February 16, 2014 - 16:53

      In the Know..the reasons everything was transfered to Halifax was because there were only 4000 clients on CB of which 30-50 required case mangement...Halifax has an active military base with thousands of retirees and vets ...they can use the extra bodies....With new IT they can change the delivery of service much easier from a central point.. ..the info the office was in a "crisis" was mostly the UNION...now some of them will actually have to work and carrya file load (that was not always the norm)..they do not like lossing positions....Local Vet made some good points and in fact many of them are true.IF you deal with VAC youwill know that hey have apolicy ..that once all the material is received for a file(the responsibility of the claimant)..the average turnover time is 16 weeks.....depending on the claim.....that is pretty reasonable considering their workload.also VETs are not poor ...or...uneducated..but the false info and media hype can be misguided...that's what Local Vet was stressing....cut the hype and give the system a chance. The politicians will just move on to the next group soon as the vets have run their course as a a political item.....

  • A Caper from Away
    February 15, 2014 - 11:21

    The office is closed get over it and give the new system a chance...

    • Alfie Burt
      February 15, 2014 - 14:54

      We have already tried the new system. It didn't take long to figure out the true number of Service Canada outlets able to help us is more like 7 instead of 600. Were not getting over it, we were misled. The only places we can really be served is the ones where a VAC rep has been placed close to the offices closed. Who knows how long they will be at those locations.

  • e m sanford
    February 15, 2014 - 07:22

    I wonder if any Veterans have tried to access the Integrated Personal Service Center that is suppose to be located at the base in Sydney? The minister assured people there was assistance for Veterans there. One Case Manager per month. Free office space has been offered. Staff requests to be located there, instead of moving to Halifax and traveling back to Cape Breton but have been denied. When the one person at Service Canada is on leave for any reason a person has to travel from Halifax to replace him. I see no cost saving here. One VAC employee at 8 Service Canada offices is a far cry from 600 as mentioned by the minister. Service has suffered and will continue to get worse. The Halifax office suffered its own employee cuts. The Client Service Agents have been reduced to less than half. Now they have aprox 4200 new clients on their case load so the average is now 1300 per Client Service Agent. The Case Managers will continue to have the average 40 Case Managed Clients they currently have. The Veterans will just have to wait longer for visits. The Veterans have been waiting to receive their equipment, nursing services, personal care, treatment and medical bills are not getting paid. Treatment authorization is not happening in a timely manor. These employees do a heck of a lot more than "see 3 clients per day" that in fact is a very small part of their job. The Halifax office has had less walk in clients so if that is what this closure was based on I feel the wrong office has been closed. The areas the employees serve could be revamped so all the Veterans get the same Service, from Yarmouth to Cape Breton. One employee at Service Canada may be able to maintain service to the "walk in clients" but what about the rest of the work? Veterans may still have their house cleaned and their grass cut (as the ministe stated) but it will take months to have the benefits approved or adjusted to meet the needs of the Veterans. Is this about jobs? Sure it is. The jobs are required to continue the great service the Veterans and families deserve. Is it about Veterans, of course it is. They were promised services and benefits. (which they will continue to receive eventually) You can have all the computer programs or how ever many companies answering general questions over the phone but at the end of the day there has to be a person to do the work. Computers can not approve services and benefits. Veterans pension applications are now processed in Montreal or Vancouver. Try getting help with one of those consfusing red tape filled applications over the phone. You may be connected with a private call center. 6 million dollors in savings could be made elseware. Try the Senate.