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

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