Brandon veterans and supporters gathered in the cold on Friday as part of a nationwide protest against the closure of Veterans Affairs offices.
Among them was Peter Ewasiuk, who served during the Second World War, in Korea and the Belgian Congo.
"This is the nice thanks we get for putting our lives on the line and losing our buddies," Ewasiuk told the crowd of 40 to 50 people gathered outside the Service Canada Centre at the corner of Princess Avenue and 11th Street.
It was one of eight such protests planned across the country in locations where offices were being closed. One office in Prince George, B.C., had already been closed and the rest were to be closed on Friday.
Veterans who spoke at the Brandon event criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino for the closures.
Veteran Martin Haller of Brandon — who served in Haiti, Kosovo and Afghanistan — said he and his colleagues entered the building and gave the remaining office staff roses to show their appreciation.
He said five staff had worked at the Brandon Veteran Affairs office, which was established in 1979. He called on Harper to reopen the offices, which provided services and support to veterans and their families.
Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder sought help at the Brandon office, he said.
"It’s shameful. Reopen it, rethink it," Haller said.
However, Friday’s rally revealed a wide divide in opinion when it came to how services would be impacted by the closure.
Veterans said they’ll now have to travel as far away as Winnipeg for some services.
But Brandon-Souris Progressive Conservative MP Larry Maguire said that’s not the case.
"The services are going to be the same here in Brandon as they have been in the past," Maguire said. "In fact, they’re in the same building, it’s just a different office.
"There’s, of course, no distance to be travelled any further than what was already there before."
Maguire said there’s an estimated total of more than 1,900 veterans in the region.
A full-time Veteran Affairs staff member will remain in the Service Canada building and provide the same services to veterans as before. The Veterans Affairs caseload in Brandon is currently estimated at 73, Maguire said.
Veterans Affairs Canada said it has worked with National Defence to open 24 Integrated Personnel Support Centres across the country in recent years, including at CFB Shilo, and veterans can still rely on home visits from registered nurses and case managers.
Haller said the Shilo office was designed to serve active members of the military but not veterans. But Veterans Affairs says the office supports both current members of the military and veterans.