Veterans deserve better than government’s treatment

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Commentary with Geoff deGannes

In an obviously misguided attempt to streamline government services and find cost-saving efficiencies, the Harper Conservative Government has unwisely targeted the country’s veterans. It’s not only heartless, but the optics could prove politically disastrous for the Tories. Ignoring the pleas and protests from veterans and their supporters across the country, Ottawa moved forward last week with the planned closure of eight Veterans Affairs offices across the country, including those in Charlottetown, Sydney, and Corner Brook, N.L. in this region. This from a government that vowed from the outset that they would be there for the country’s veterans when they needed assistance.  

In recent months, we have seen Afghan war vets taking their lives with alarming frequency illustrating the high rate of posttraumatic stress disorder within the military and the need for expanded mental health services. As well, there’s been a long litany of cases where veterans have been shortchanged or clawed back on pensions and benefits. 

To add insult to injury, when a delegation of veterans took their concerns to Ottawa and the office of Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino last week, the minister showed up 70 minutes late for the scheduled meeting. After a testy exchange, he abruptly ended the session. He did later issue an apology, but he’s also suggested that it’s the PSAC union that has been “manipulating” the veterans and are really the ones behind the protests.

That’s a rather disingenuous insult to the vets.  

Fantino, an ex-cop, may have been strategically chosen by the prime minister to assume this portfolio and carry out the office closures given his hard-nosed persona and seeming lack of empathy or compassion. While he may not have been the minister when this policy was adopted, Fantino has steadfastly supported its implementation.

In turn, veterans now justifiably feel they have been betrayed by this minister and this government who appear callously out of touch with their needs. The federal government has argued that veterans won’t see any deterioration in the level of services available to them, and will actually have additional points of access, as they will be directed to the more numerous Service Canada locations across Canada to access services.

Anyone who has dealt with a Service Canada office knows how understaffed they already are and their personnel certainly don’t have the expertise or specialized knowledge necessary to deal with veterans’ issues.   

As well, it was shortsighted of the prime minister to tell the House of Commons that these offices are being closed because they are under-utilized when in fact the Sydney office alone is serving 4,200 clients in Cape Breton.  

As one angry and very emotional vet commented last week after his brief meeting with Fantino, “the Conservatives best be prepared for the next election.” While they may have lost this latest battle with Ottawa, protesting veterans and their supporters are vowing to be a thorn in the side of every Conservative candidate when they hit the campaign trail in 2015. Our country’s veterans deserve better than their receiving from this government.

  

Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.  

 

Organizations: Veterans Affairs, Service Canada, PSAC union House of Commons Conservatives Tantramar Radio Society

Geographic location: Ottawa, Sydney, Charlottetown Corner Brook Canada Cape Breton

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