Black Ribbon Campaign

Clericus Maximus's picture

Although, the needs of Veterans are increasing, 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, the conservative government steadily has been reducing services to our veterans. 

In the last two years, the number of traditional veterans – excluding family members, survivors and the RCMP – served by Veterans Affairs has decreased from 63,000 to 49,000. But the number of Regular Force Veterans served by Veterans Affairs – again excluding family members, survivors and the RCMP – has increased from 68,000 to 76,000. That number will continue to increase, especially given that in 2013, the average age of the 594,300 Canadian Forces veterans is 56.

It’s important to note that as older veterans age they require more care and services, and that younger veterans turning to Veterans Affairs for services, such as those returning from Afghanistan, tend to have more complex needs, as many have been diagnosed with serious mental health conditions such as PTSD and OCD as a result of their experiences while deployed.

Since 2012 the number of frontline staff available to deal with the ever increasing number of veterans in need of assistance has been drastically reduced through the  closure of Veterans Affairs offices and layoffs

Nine regional VAC offices are slated to be closed by the end of February 2014. The federal government has been in the process of cutting more than 784 jobs from Veterans Affairs since the 2012 budget was implemented.

With a veterans affairs minister " who appears to have had his empathy surgically removed" (Harper, T. , The Star, 2014/06/03​) and a meeting between him and veterans that "went off the rails " (CBC, 2014/01/29), veterans and other groups have banded together in support of Canadian veterans.

The Kingston AreaCouncil took the Black Ribbon campaign to the "streets" or more precisely to its summer actions, the Kingston Buskers Rendezvous and the Kingston Limestone City Blues Fest as well as the Labour Day Picnic, handing out business cards with short facts of the cutbacks and a black ribbon that was pinned to the card by a Canadian flag pin.

The cards and ribbons were a great success and visitors to the PSAC Kingston AreaCouncil's tent during those events  by enthusiastically transferring the ribbons from the cards to their clothing, wearing them proudly in support of our veterans.

 

 

 

<with sources from PSAC, The Star, Veterans Watch, CBC>

Resources

Veterans Affairs office closures - Questions and Answers

Can’t veterans get the services they need from the other workers at Service Canada locations, as well as online and through the phone, when these offices close?

  • Veterans Affairs workers receive specialized, ongoing training because Veterans Affairs services and programs, like the needs of veterans, are vast and complex and always evolving. This includes training in:

    • Federal claims processing, screening for eligibility for services and benefits

    • Veterans Affairs legislation

    • Regulations, policies and acts to determine eligibility for services and benefits for Canadian Armed Forces members

    • The New Veterans Charter, particularly the Rehabilitation Program;

    • Mental health issues, crisis intervention, difficult clients and suicide intervention; motivational interviewing techniques

    • Treatment under Programs of Choice

    • Assessment for Veterans Independence Program (VIP)

    • Liaising with legion service officers, suppliers, providers, social workers, hospitals and specialized healthcare practitioners

  • Service Canada workers have received very limited training about Veterans Affairs services and programs, so can only answer general questions and supply and receive forms. They don’t have the expertise or the time to sit down with veterans to help them fill out their applications for benefits and services or check to ensure that forms are properly completed. One mistake can result in the denial of benefits to a veteran.

  • Training and expertise aside, unlike Veterans Affairs workers, Service Canada workers cannot access veterans’ files and therefore cannot give advice or guidance related to individual cases. Veterans Affairs workers do access those files and have often built long-term relationships with clients so are much more able to understand and respond to their needs. This is especially important for veterans with complex physical and mental health conditions.

  • PSAC represents the workers at Service Canada too. They’d like to do more for our veterans, but it is unrealistic to expect them to have the same degree of expertise. They are often left with no choice but to point veterans to the computer or the toll-free phone line for help. Veterans tell us the phone line and internet are problematic, especially for those who are older or living with PTSD and other mental health challenges.

What about the Minister’s November 28 announcement that he would leave a Veterans Affairs worker in the Service Canada outlets where Veterans Affairs offices are closing?

  • Veterans Affairs management informed the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees on December 5 that this would only be a temporary measure. The Minister has since announced that the initiative will be longer term. Details aren’t yet clear, but staff being placed in Service Canada offices won’t necessarily come from the offices that close.

  • Even if this were to become a permanent measure, it just isn’t possible for eight workers to make up for the almost 90 front line workers being lost when these offices close. They include 25 Case Managers who work with high risk veterans, and 21 Client Service Agents with the expertise that helps them ensure veterans get the programs and benefits they qualify for. Those workers also include people like administrative staff, local managers, pension officers, nurses and occupational therapists. None of these people are dispensable.

 

Veterans Affairs Office

Number of frontline workers in 2012

Corner Brook

7 (includes 2 Case Managers and 2 Client Service Agents)

Charlottetown

12 (includes 2 Case Managers and 3 Client Service Agents)

Sydney

17 (includes 4 Case Managers and 4 Client Service Agents)

Thunder Bay

7 (includes 2 Case Managers and 2 Client Service Agents)

Windsor

10 (includes 3 Case Managers and 3 Client Service Agents)

Brandon

5.5 (includes 2 Case Managers and 2 Client Service Agents)

Saskatoon

14 (includes 5 Case Managers and 3 Client Service Agents)

Kelowna

10 (includes 5 Case Managers and 2 Client Service Agents)

Prince George (closed Jan. 2012)

2 (includes 2 Client Service Agents. In 2007 2 Case Managers left and were not replaced)

Why can’t we just place more Veterans Affairs workers in Service Canada offices?

  • Veterans say they need their own space in which to access these services. These offices have been set up with veterans’ needs in mind. They have reception areas designed for veterans and their families and decorated with service memorabilia to make veterans feel at home. They also have private interview rooms for meetings with Client Service Agents and Case Managers. They also have examination rooms where veterans can meet with nurses and other healthcare practitioners.

  • Veterans say that having to walk into a Service Canada office – designed as a one-stop-shop for government services – will deter them from seeking support. They say the offices aren’t private enough for conversations about the benefits and services they need, and that those with mental health issues won’t feel comfortable having to take a number or wait in a more public space.

If a veteran has trouble travelling to a VAC office, medical or other facilities, can’t doctors, nurses or case workers go to the residence of the veteran?

  • Only veterans who have Case Managers receive home visits from Veterans Affairs. Clients without case-managed files will have to travel to the closest remaining Veterans Affairs office for in-person services that require access to their file or expertise in Veterans Affairs programs and services. With the exception of travel for pension-related medical appointments, veterans must cover their own travel costs.

  • For veterans in Thunder Bay, the office closure means traveling to North Bay, 13 hours away. For veterans in Sydney, the closure means a five to six hour drive to Halifax. For veterans in Corner Brook, it means an eight hour drive to St. John’s. For veterans in Charlottetown, it would mean traveling out of province to Saint John. In Brandon, the nearest office is only a 30 to 45 minute drive away in Shilo, but veterans point out that there is no public transportation and most can’t afford the round trip taxi fare of about $60.

What do these closures mean for case-managed veterans who are considered high-risk because of complex mental and/or physical health conditions?

  • Altogether these closures mean the loss of 25 Case Managers with an average caseload of 40 clients. Those clients’ files are being transferred to Case Managers in other offices, but the Case Managers in those offices already have an average of 40 clients each as well.

  • Given the distances and additional caseloads, it is impossible to understand how, if the closures go ahead, Case Managers will be able to maintain the same level of service to high-risk veterans – whether through home visits, telephone check-ins or office visits.

  • Veterans Affairs has not released information about how many high-risk veterans are waiting to be assigned Case Managers, or about how long those veterans – once assigned – wait for their first meeting. Anecdotally, our members tell us it is commonplace for veterans to wait for months to be assigned a Case Manager, and that once assigned, it can take several more weeks before a first meeting takes place.

  • Veterans also emphasize that it is the pro-active work by Case Managers that makes the difference for veterans in crisis and that that can even save lives. Veterans struggling with depression and PTSD often don’t want to reach out for help. It is a pro-active call from a Case Manager, not the other way around, that often uncovers the need for crisis intervention.

What do these closures mean for veterans in other communities across Canada?

  • The government has not committed to adding staff to the offices taking on clients from offices they want to close, and in many cases, those offices have fewer staff now than they did in 2012. If they take on thousands more files from the offices slated for closure, workers in these offices will have increased caseloads, which will mean longer wait times for service for all the veterans being served by those offices.

  • Regina, for example, will be taking on 4,500 files from Saskatoon, doubling its client numbers, but has seen a reduction in staff from 16 to 11.5 since 2012. Halifax will be taking on 4,200 files from Sydney, but has lost five staff members since 2012. London’s caseload will increase by almost half when they take on files from Windsor. They have two fewer staff now than in 2012. Penticton and Vancouver have seen staff cuts of four and ten respectively since 2012, and yet are taking on more than 3,635 files from Prince George and Kelowna.

Don’t veterans have access to Operational Stress Injury Clinics and Integrated Personnel Support Centres too?

  • There are no Operational Stress Injury Clinics or Integrated Personnel Support Centres in the communities where the government wants to shut down Veterans Affairs offices.

Don’t these closures reflect the changing demographics of Canada’s veterans?

  • Altogether the nine offices the government wants to close serve more than 17,000 veterans and their family members. Those numbers demonstrate the closures simply don’t make sense.

  • In the last two years, the number of traditional veterans served by Veterans Affairs has decreased from 63,000 to 49,000. But the number of Regular Force Veterans served by Veterans Affairs has increased from 68,000 to 76,000. That number will continue to increase. In 2013, the average age of the 594,300 Canadian Forces veterans is 56. And none of these numbers include family members, survivors and the RCMP who are served by Veterans’ Affairs.

  • As older veterans age, they require more care and services. Younger veterans, such as those returning from Afghanistan, tend to have more complex needs, such as those who have been diagnosed with serious mental health conditions as a result of their deployment.

The government says it has invested almost $5 billion in new funding to improve Veterans benefits, programs and services, and that close to 90% of the department’s budget goes towards direct services and support for Veterans. Isn’t this enough?

  • Any investments this government has made are spread over many years and don’t make up for cuts to front-line services for veterans. In fact, the government has cut the budget for Veterans Affairs by $129 million since 2011. A further $132 million in cuts are planned by 2016. In total 784 jobs will be cut including case managers, client service agents, disability pension officers, nurses and administrative staff who process all the claims. Veterans and their families must be able to access the benefits and services available or the investment is meaningless.

Websites

PSAC And Veterans http://psacunion.ca/veterans

How Julian Fantino's meeting with veterans went off the rails: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/how-julian-fantino-s-meeting-with-veterans-went-off-the-rails-1.2515817

Veterans Watch http://veteranwatch.blogspot.ca/

Are you affected by Veterans Affairs office closures?

PSAC is working with veterans across the country to track the consequences of these closures. Are you a veteran with a story to share? Please let us know. http://psacunion.ca/are-you-affected-office-closures