Veterans took their case to Ottawa today to plead with Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino not to close their local offices.
The federal government has already closed one office in Prince George, B.C., and plans to close eight more on Jan. 31.
"Why do we as veterans have to beg?" said Roy Lamore, a WWII veteran from Thunder Bay, Ont.
Alban LeClair says he works with veterans in Prince Edward Island as a legion service volunteer.
"I can't help veterans without assistance of Veterans Affairs," he said.
"This government keeps saying it's enhancing services for veterans. It says these closures will not affect services. Well, I can tell you now, that before they started shutting down Charlottetown district office, a veteran could get a home visit within a couple of days. Now it takes up to six weeks to contact the veteran. And six weeks is a long time for a 93-year-old veteran, and even young veterans suffering with PTSD," he said, referring to post-traumatic stress disorder.
One veteran teared up as he described what friends were going through as they faced the office closures.
Offices are set to close in:
- Corner Brook, N.L.
- Sydney, N.S.
- Thunder Bay, Ont.
- Windsor, Ont.
- Brandon, Man.
- Kelowna, B.C.
Meeting with Fantino
The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) organized Tuesday's press conference.
Chris Aylward, the union's national executive vice-president, says Fantino will meet with the group Tuesday night.
The government says the services will still be available online.
But the website isn't easy to navigate, said Bruce Moncur, a 29-year-old who served in Afghanistan.
Moncur says he banks and does other transactions online, but it took him a whole afternoon to figure out the Veterans Affairs site.
Moncur described starting an account on the site, then waiting a day for it to be activated, and waiting another week to get the paperwork he requested.
"Something that I could have gone to the office for, that would have taken 10 minutes to get, ended up taking me a week. And that's indiciative too of what's happening with these closures is that the service is going to [be] even slower. I never thought it would be possible, but it is," he said.
For those who still want to meet with a case worker, the closures could mean travelling for hours to get to the nearest office.
Michelle Bradley, who has worked for Veterans Affairs since 2001, says the government has forgotten the sacrifices veterans have made for Canada.
Bradley is also the national vice-president of the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees for the Atlantic region.
"We've been forced to put aside our caring as we watch all of our veterans wait longer to get the support they need and they deserve," she said.