Veterans Affairs job cuts in Victoria will exacerbate critical situation: Legion

Veterans will suffer from federal government's numbers game, union rep says

The elimination of frontline staff at the Victoria office of Veterans Affairs Canada this fall will deal a devastating blow to military veterans, says the union representing affected employees.

The federal department’s main office on the Island will see its roster of 17 client service agents shrink by 4.37 full-time equivalent positions, as part of a nationwide downsizing plan. The Victoria agents each work with hundreds of veterans – including those from out of province – applying for disability pensions and mobility aids, among other services.

In the wake of the job cuts, the Royal Canadian Legion in B.C. expects to see an influx of veterans submitting more disability claims.

That will further swamp the Legion’s two service officers, one each at CFB Esquimalt and in Vancouver, who are already filing papers for hundreds of vets, who turn to the Legion rather than Veterans Affairs.

“The workload has increased tenfold for our two service officers in the last few months, to a point where we’re going to have to hire two more,” said Dave Sinclair, immediate past president of the B.C./Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Job cuts at Veterans Affairs will only compound the challenge of providing for military veterans, he said.

The number of Afghanistan vets who are now seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder from Legion-funded treatment programs, and who are seeking to file claims, is only the tip of the iceberg.

“We’re not going to see the full impact of the Afghanistan veterans for another four or five years,” Sinclair said, adding it takes time for the disorder to manifest itself.

Across Canada, 75 agent positions are being cut. Employees will likely start receiving their surplus notices this fall, said Kim Coles, national executive vice-president of the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees, representing 2,700 members, plus 500 hospital staff.

The union is already reeling from previously announced plans to terminate 552 jobs from the department over the next three years.

In the wake of the federal budget in March, Veterans Affairs now plans to eliminate a total of 804 positions by 2015-16.

“How are they going to maintain the service to veterans with that? I don’t care how much stuff you say can be done on the computer,” Coles said.

“We’re not processing passports here. We’re dealing with people’s lives, people that have sacrificed for their country. That mandate is all going out the window and it’s all becoming a numbers game.”

The government’s plans to create efficiencies will actually ramp up delays, she said.

“My gosh, (some older veterans) could die before they actually get services they put in for in the first place.”

A spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Canada said the restructuring process will not reduce services to veterans. Rather, it will eliminate unnecessary red tape to provide “better and faster” service.

“We will continue to meet or exceed our service standard of one case manager for every 40 case-managed veterans,” the spokesperson said.

The department expects to manage its restructuring through attrition, since approximately 1,000 workers will be eligible for retirement between now and 2016.

But Coles said only about 50 per cent of those people will be willing or able to retire.

The full impact on specific staff positions has not yet been fleshed out, the department spokesperson said, but “our staff in the Victoria area will continue to play an important role in supporting the department’s work.”

emccracken@vicnews.com

By the numbers

Veterans Affairs Canada plans to terminate 804 positions across the country by 2015-16. Here’s a breakdown:

• Victoria district office cuts: 4.37 of 17 client service agents

• Vancouver office: 5.5 of 20 client service agents

• Penticton office: two out of eight positions

• Job cuts in the West (B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba): 192 positions over the next three years

• District office closures in 2013 (including in Kelowna and Prince George): seven

Our View: Veterans deserve more support

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

‘The face of Belmont’: Custodial staff at Langford school pivot to support parents, students

Staff serve as point of contact for parents, students with school

Sooke temporary homeless shelter packs up early

Occupants to leave facility by June 22

Name of victims ‘ripped down’ from Victoria display

Organizers feel the act is ‘malicious’

Government Street becomes pedestrian-priority corridor

One block of downtown street closed to cars entirely

Greater Victoria transit usage sees gradual rise

Ridership still down 66 per cent compared to last year

March dental conference key to many of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases

Early infections from China, Iran were quickly contained

POLL: Are you sending your children back to school this month?

Classrooms looked decidedly different when students headed back to school for the… Continue reading

Cortes Island affordable housing project hangs by a thread

Regional decision makers resort to COVID-19 concerns despite virtual meeting option and push hearing to September

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

North Island recreation camping site closed due to vandalism

Damage happens every year, forcing site manager to reallocate improvement budget to repairs

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, 26, fatally shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Police were conducting a well-being check at the time of the incident

Seniors to receive up to $500 in promised COVID-19 emergency aid in early July

The Liberal government first promised the extra help in mid-May, but had to create a new system to deliver the aid

VIDEO: Revelstoke bear wanders into Animal House pet store

Staff got ready to chase it out with a broom

Man found dead in his tent at Island homeless camp

Facebook posts tell of personal struggles and attempts to stay clean and sober

Most Read