ANAVETS Brandon Unit 10 president Al Dunham (right) looks on as Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Merv Tweed announces last July that most Veterans Affairs services will be available through Service Canada in the future. (FILE PHOTO)
The president of the local Army Navy and Air Force Veterans said the future is "bleak" as the government plans to shut down the Veterans Affairs office in Brandon.
"We need those people in Brandon," Al Dunham said. "It’s not only Brandon veterans, it’s veterans all over Westman."
Brandon’s two Veterans Affairs case managers are expected to get cut by this time next year.
Workers meet with veterans to help navigate the system, assist in filling out forms, inform veterans about what programs are available to them and submit claims for processing.
And Brandon’s not alone. Veterans Affairs announced last May a decision to close offices in Kelowna, B.C., Saskatoon, Sask., Thunder Bay, Ont., Charlottetown, P.E.I., Corner Brook, N.L., Sydney, N.S., London, Ont. and Windsor, Ont.
In talking will several ANAVETS members, Dunham said the reaction to the news is overwhelmingly negative among vets and said he sees a bleak future for veterans without a Brandon office.
"It’s very disheartening that there are any cuts to veterans," he said.
With military presence winding down in Afghanistan and less focus on soldiers and veterans, Dunham said he believes the cuts landed on Veterans Affairs because of the decreased attention it has received in recent years.
"That’s an easy way to start snipping away at things," he said. "I don’t believe that any Canadian wants Veterans Affairs to be cut back one dime, they know that these men and woman answered the call of their country."
Dunham said his membership voiced very strong opposition to the cuts to Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Merv Tweed when they were first announced last year.
ANAVETS will be rounding up the troops in a pushback to the governments plans on a national level.
"On a national scale, we are attacking this to get those rights for the veterans and leave them alone," Dunham said.
In the wake of the looming closure, veterans will be forced to navigate phone trees and the Internet to get the info they need — something Dunham said isn’t ideal for those who aren’t technologically inclined.
"When you have a person that’s 80 years old and needs someone to listen to his complaints or his challenges and he’s trying to go through the phone tree, it’s pretty daunting for them and most of them will just hang up," he said.
"I’m pretty sure that vast majority don’t have a computer."
Meanwhile, Tweed, who couldn’t confirm specific closing dates, justified the potential layoffs, saying the number of inquiries online has increased significantly.
"We’re also finding that a lot of applications and a lot of the services being requested are being done so online, through email," Tweed said. "The numbers actually support that the enquiries online are content to go up."
Bureaucrats within Service Canada will assume some of the role of the displaced case managers, Tweed said.
"I do know that Veterans Affairs has partnerships with a lot of the Service Canada offices."
"It’s been told to be home visits by case managers and nurses, they will continue to be available as needed by the veterans."
Tweed also voiced his optimism for continued service to veterans.
"I’m optimistic service should improve," he said. "I get a sense at this point that service will be as good or better than it was before."
Bob Dane, sergeant-at-arms for the Carberry branch of the Royal Canadian Legion said the government is making a mistake by taking away personal contact for older veterans.
"They’re old, they’re not going to get on computers, in fact, I’m 25 years younger than these people and I’m not going to go to a computer … or phone somebody that’s 300 miles away from me," he said. "It’s not the same as seeing somebody eye-to-eye and talking with them."
CFB Shilo will be the remaining Veterans Affairs office in the area, with just one case worker, which could mean a drastic increase in its workload.
"It’ll be impossible to keep up with that kind of workload," Dane said. "There’s no physical way (the single case worker) can do it all."
Dane expects the Legion to stand tall in a pushback against the impending cuts.
"I’m sure there’s something going to go on, there’s no doubt in my mind."
The government is treating veterans "callously," Dane said.
"They have put their lives on the line, they’re the boots on the ground, they’re the ones being put in harm’s way and willing to do anything to keep our standards good in our country," he said.
"It’s my opinion they are treating the vet callously and very cold. Don’t they remember that these people are getting on in age?"
Veterans Affairs Canada will see its budget cut by $66.7 million a year by 2014-15.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 23, 2013