It’s been one horror story after another. Veterans are having to sue the government to get the benefits they are entitled to. The government has torn up the social contract with veterans that has been in place since World War I. Essential services for veterans are being cut back. A rising suicide rate among veterans has already moved past the combat fatality rate. The Minister of Veterans Affairs, Julian Fantino, openly sneers at vets while he sports a chestful of medals as though he’s one of them.
It’s no coincidence that the government announced it will allocate some money for veterans with mental health problems just after the news broke that Veterans Affairs gave $1.1 billion back to the Treasury instead of spending it on the people it was intended to help. Imagine the services that could have been retained had that money been spent as intended.
This all puts Harper’s grand and expensive celebrations of the War of 1812 into a bit of perspective, eh? Of course it’s important to remember the past. But it’s equally important, I would have thought, to give badly needed assistance to those who are alive today.
Here are some facts: since 2010, Veterans Affairs has lost nearly a quarter of its workforce. Since 2012, 1,255 VA employees have been handed “affected” notices. Nine VA regional offices have been closed. Client service agents presently have a caseload of 750 to 1,200 veterans each. Something simply has to give. Unfortunately, it’s our veterans who are unfairly bearing the brunt of these cutbacks.
Our response? We’ve tabled a proposal at the bargaining table asking the government to declare a moratorium on Veterans Affairs cuts until an independent study is carried out to see if the department can still fulfil its mandate. And we will continue to work with veterans across the country as we have been doing for some time, to do what every citizen of this country should be doing—showing support for those who need assistance. Remembrance Day was just a few days ago—but how quickly some seem to forget.
“It’s not about left and right in politics,” said Don Leonardo, of Veterans Canada, who is an injured veteran himself. “It’s about what’s right and what’s wrong and the Conservatives on this file are absolutely wrong.” Amen to that.