We are troubled by news that Veterans Affairs Canada is downsizing its department, including the district office in Victoria, due to budget cuts.
Unlike the days when much of its work dealt with the post-Second World War struggles and challenges faced by service personnel, Veterans Affairs today is seeing an influx of people whose experience came in such theatres as Bosnia, Rwanda, Afghanistan and various peacekeeping scenarios.
For those engaged in combat roles, their experiences might be similar to those lived through by their military predecessors. Yet the understanding today of the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological illnesses is greater than the Second World War, when struggling Canadian servicemen were pigeonholed as having “battle exhaustion.”
In true military fashion, Veteran Affairs insists that none of its clients will be left behind as a result of the cuts to office personnel.
The union representing the workers, voicing a predictable doom-and-gloom response, argues that veterans will begin to fall through the cracks due to projected increases in already too-large caseloads for staff and the added time it will take to process client requests.
As in all labour-employer disputes, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.
But the telling point in this conversation comes from the Royal Canadian Legion, which, for years, has done its best, given its limited resources, to fill the void in veteran support left by the federal government.
They expect the next four or five years to produce more diagnosed cases of post-traumatic stress disorder than ever, a scenario which, if not addressed, could have devastating effects not only on the individuals, but their families.
In a time of belt-tightening, the federal government needs to make cuts.
But no matter how it is sugar-coated by Veterans Affairs, the decision to downsize the department’s front-line operations not only sets a dangerous precedent, it’s a slap in the face to individuals who have willingly and bravely served their country.