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

Just Posted

Neighbour details hearing ‘thuds’ the day girls found dead in Oak Bay

Jury at double-murder trial hears from Andrew Berry’s neighbour

‘Goodness prevails’: neighbours reflect following suspicious death of 60-year-old Metchosin man

Martin Payne was found dead in his Metchosin home on Friday. Police have confirmed foul play.

Repatriation efforts work to heal and connect through history: Royal BC Museum

Victoria museum’s efforts bolstered by B.C. repatriation grant

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to make public transit announcement in Victoria on Thursday

Trudeau is speaking at a campaign countdown event in downtown Victoria

Afternoon crashes tangle Wednesday traffic in Victoria

Victoria Police were kept busy with a pair of rush hour crashes… Continue reading

VIDEO: Sparrows raise their chicks in Cadboro Bay deck planter

Jill Yoneda captured 11 days up close with tiny Junco sparrows

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of July 16

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Olympic softball qualifier gets $150K boost from provincial government

2019 Americas Qualifier to be held in Surrey from Aug. 25-Sept. 1

Gas price inquiry questions Trans Mountain capacity, company denies collusion

The first of up to four days of oral hearings in the inquiry continue in Vancouver

‘Benzos’ and fentanyl a deadly cocktail causing a growing concern on B.C. streets

Overdoses caused by benzodiazepines can’t be reversed with opioid-overdose antidote naloxone

Chinook retention begins on North Island, but amid new size limit

DFO calls measures ‘difficult but necessary’ following rockslide on Fraser River

Will you be celebrating national hotdog day with any of these crazy flavours?

The popularity of hotdogs spans generations, cultures

Former home of accused Penticton shooter vandalized

Ex-wife of man who is accused of murdering four people had her house vandalized

Survivor of near-drowning in B.C. lake viewing life through new eyes

“If I died that day, the baby wouldn’t know his dad,” said 31-year-old Mariano Santander-Melo.

Most Read