The Royal Canadian Legion will be closely watching the fallout from Veterans Affairs Canada’s closure of nine district offices across the country.
“If the results of this change do have a negative impact on veterans you can be assured the Legion will take up the call to seek corrective actions,” Dominion President Gordon Moore said in a message to provincial commands.
VAC closed offices in Kelowna, B.C., Saskatoon, Thunder Bay and Windsor, Ont., Charlottetown, Sydney, N.S., and Corner Brook, Nfld., on Jan. 31. The offices in Prince George, B.C., and Brandon, Man., had been closed earlier.
Files of veterans served by staff in these offices have been assigned to the nearest VAC area office.
Critics argued that elderly veterans would have been forced to drive long distances for face-to-face service and that veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder would be only poorly served by online services.
After a series of cross-country protests, often organized by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, VAC announced one client service agent would be posted at a Service Canada location closest to each of the eight offices closed in January, and listed those locations on the website www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/contact.
In January, Newfoundland and Labrador Command President Ross Petten called on VAC to reverse the decision. “We cannot stand silently by and watch the unprecedented erosion of service delivery,” he said.
Meanwhile, Service Canada began distributing general information on VAC programs at 600 Service Canada locations. “I am concerned with the closure…and the lack of effective communication to our veterans on the closures. Veterans need to understand that they will be looked after,” Moore said in January.
A change in demographics is behind the changes, Assistant Deputy Minister Keith Hillier of VAC explained in an appearance before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs in the fall.
Some offices across the country are expanding while others are shrinking or closing in response to need. More than 100 VAC employees now work at Integrated Personnel Support Centres (IPSCs) on 24 bases and wings across the country serving the growing number of modern veterans. “Just over 7,000 of the more than 135,000 veterans we serve are receiving case management services from a network of 220 case managers across Canada,” he said. Second World War and Korean War veterans make up six per cent of those handled by case managers, Canadian Armed Forces veterans 91 per cent.
The ratio of veterans to case managers is about 40 to 1, and the number of case managers remains stable at about 230, distributed according to need. “If the need for case management increases, the numbers will increase. And if the need goes down, which I suspect probably is not going to happen, then we will make the adjustments on a location-by-location basis.” He said although the numbers of traditional veterans is waning, modern day veterans have more complex needs.
Moore said the Legion supports placing care managers in IPSCs, adding, “However, there still needs to be sufficient resources to meet the needs of our wartime and aging veterans whose needs can very quickly go from independent to complex with a simple fall or infection.”