The Royal Canadian Legion has concerns about Veterans Affairs Canada’s use of Service Canada for handling inquiries and applications. Agents at Service Canada’s 600 outlets are now answering veterans’ inquiries and accepting completed application forms for VAC disability claims and other benefits.
“We are really concerned about this,” said Dominion Command Service Bureau Director Andrea Siew. “Completing a disability benefits application for VAC is not the same as filing a passport application. The disability benefits process is very complex. It requires a certain level of knowledge and training. We have no idea if staff at Service Canada outlets will be able to answer the questions to ensure veterans are getting the services and benefits they deserve, or that they know what benefits and services are available.”
This move follows the announcement that nine VAC district offices—in Sydney N.S., Charlottetown, Corner Brook, Nfld., Windsor and Thunder Bay in Ontario, Brandon Man., Saskatoon Sask., and Kelowna and Prince George in British Columbia—will be closed by the end of 2013.
The announcement was made July 29 in Halifax by Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney and Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley.
Service Canada is the federal agency providing one-stop information on a wide range of government programs and services.
Blaney has said that veterans may go to Service Canada for broad and general requests, but complex issues will still be addressed by VAC specialists. Service Canada agents will forward completed application forms for disability and Veterans Independence Program benefits, along with supporting documentation, to VAC.
Although Blaney has said the changes give more points of contact for veterans, “The Legion is very concerned about the perception that as these district offices close, the same services will be available from Service Canada’s 600 outlets—but it’s not the same service,” says Siew.
Of particular concern is service to older veterans. Service Canada’s offices have kiosks where veterans can access their VAC accounts online, and its website now has information about more than two dozen VAC services and programs.
But “that’s not for older veterans,” who prefers service from knowledgeable front-line VAC staff, says Siew. When VAC budget cuts were announced in April, “the department said these were backroom cuts, but that’s clearly not the case.”
VAC says it will continue to provide information and services regardless of a veteran’s location. “Veterans can continue to receive services and home visits from VAC staff,” says media relations officer Simon Forsyth. “They are also still able to call the department, where they’ll be directed to a VAC employee who will assist them… There will be no reduction in service to veterans in areas where our offices consequently get smaller or close.”