With Remembrance Day fast approaching, the Canadian government is choosing to throw money at an ad campaign to repair its image at the expense of Canada’s veterans. The government is ignoring the voices of veterans and is whitewashing its own betrayal with advertising.
The new government ad campaign declares that “Canada’s veterans never forgot us, so let’s remember to never forget them.” But the decision to shut down nine district Veterans Affairs offices shows that the government has little respect for the needs of elderly and war-injured veterans.
The federal government plans to shut nine district Veterans Affairs offices, including the one in Brandon. The others are in Corner Brook, N.L., Charlottetown, Sydney, N.S., Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, Ont., Windsor, Kelowna and Prince George, B.C. The workers in these offices provide crucial services to veterans. The Prince George office has already closed and the others are already winding down services. The government could force them to shut their doors to veterans as early as December.
After putting their lives on the line on behalf of all Canadians, many veterans — especially those living with serious injuries, disabilities and mental health challenges like post-traumatic stress disorder — rely on Veterans Affairs for support. The Canadian government promised to take care of them from the day they enlisted until the day they die. Now politicians would rather spend money on platitudes than provide the services that veterans actually need.
Terry Collins, a 47-year-old veteran who served in Bosnia and accesses services from the Sydney office, is featured a video that the Public Service Alliance of Canada released earlier this month.
“I am a young veteran living with post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Collins. “Veterans are not dying out — there are hundreds more just like me who are struggling and need face-to-face services from Veterans Affairs.”
Many veterans — especially those living with serious injuries, disabilities and mental health challenges like PTSD — rely on these Veterans Affairs offices for support.
As of March 2013, more than 26,000 clients depended on the offices that are slated for closure. Across Canada, there are currently 695,700 veterans and 110,000 serving members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP. Of them, 126,000 receive benefits and services from the department, excluding survivors, spouses and RCMP members. As of March 2013, Veterans Affairs was serving 212,199 clients. There are 570,000 more veterans who are not clients and may not be aware of the programs and services available to them.
“They tell me that I will need to drive for more than five hours to get one-on-one services,” says Ron Clarke, 73, another veteran featured in the video who served nearly 36 years in the military and lives in North Sydney. “What a profound disservice to veterans like me.”
The government says veterans in the affected communities will be able to access services through Service Canada offices, but the staff members there are not able to provide the services veterans need and are also facing cuts.
“Telling us to drive for hours or rely on the phone or a website for help is a profound betrayal to veterans young and old. Veterans need and deserve one-on-one help,” said Michael Barnewell, 32, a veteran who served in Afghanistan and lost his right leg to a landmine.
A couple of weeks ago, the government unveiled a new “PTSD app” for smartphones — a move that was dismissed as laughable by veterans such as Collins and Clarke. There is no way that an app can replace one-on-one service. And a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign cannot hide the fact that the federal government is about to deny frontline support to the women and men who have already sacrificed so much.
The government needs to stop the closures of the Veterans Affairs offices and guarantee that veterans will continue to receive the help they need and deserve. Lest we forget.
Public Service Alliance Canada
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 1, 2013