Thursday April 24, 2014


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Veterans deserve respect

Opinion
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The recent decision by the Conservative federal government to close eight veterans’ affairs offices across the country has hit a nerve with a lot of people.

Last week, the anger intensified when a group of veterans who served our country in various capacities in conflict were in Ottawa to lobby with union officials against the closures and to meet with Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino.

Fantino showed up for the meeting 70 minutes late and with cameras and reporters on hand to record the encounter. It was not pretty. There were several sharp remarks between the vets and Fantino, before he was called away again. The veterans were clearly disrespected during the exchange and Fantino issued an apology the next day, but the Liberals and New Democrats had a field day in question period, calling for Fantino’s head.

It didn’t look good for the Conservatives. In fact, it looked pretty darn shameful. The Conservatives closed down the offices, shifting work done to Service Canada offices, which already are understaffed, under funded and overworked.

A Sunshine Coast veteran reached out to us this week with his thoughts on the subject. He said the idea of closing the VA offices was a bit of a tempest in a teapot. If one or more qualified VA employees (depending on the caseload) are transferred to the Services Canada office nearby, that could work, but the real work on manoeuvring through the VA bureaucratic maze is normally done by volunteer case worker advocates in any case, and the Legions are handling this business very well on a volunteer case worker basis.

Veterans rely on veterans’ affairs offices for a variety of services, not the least of which is support for those who have been injured in conflict and those who are able bodied when they return, but are suffering mentally from the horror of war.

We understand funding challenges and we understand that this decision by the Conservatives was made in an attempt to streamline the system and save money, but this was very poorly handled.

And that is the real issue here — a lack of respect from a number of grandstanding government politicians.

Fantino looked awfully bad showing up late for the meeting and then basically blowing off the veterans’ concerns.

Other Conservative MPs have been under fire for other remarks about mental health and the stigma associated with it, with one Ontario MP claiming post-traumatic stress reported by some soldiers was simply all in their minds.

It’s shameful. All politicians should be respectful to all of the constituents that they represent, but they should go the extra mile when dealing with veterans who have given up so much for us all.


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