Military veterans in Whitehorse say they are frustrated with the federal government over the impending closure of at least nine veterans’ affairs regional offices across the country.
Red Grossinger, a veteran of the Cold War and peacekeeping missions in Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, said unless the government reverses these cuts, former warriors like him across the country will have vital supports taken away suddenly and cruelly.
“I was in Europe for six years with NATO. Our job was to impede the Soviet forces during the Cold War, to slow them down long enough so reinforcements could be brought over to push them back.
“Our lives were on the line every single day. It was the Cold War. And what do we get? Betrayal by our government,” Grossinger said, fighting back tears.
In February, the government will close veterans’ affairs regional offices in Prince George, Corner Brook, Charlottetown, Sydney, Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Brandon and Kelowna. Once the offices are closed, veterans will have to travel to larger centres for face-to-face support or get in line with regular Canadians at Service Canada locations. There is also a 1-800 number they can call and an online system as well.
Grossinger said nothing can replace the workers in those offices, and the human face they bring to helping our former fighters recover from the missions they were asked to fight.
“I want to make it clear that the employees of veteran affairs are tremendous people, hard workers. We used to have some of them come to the Yukon once a year to provide service, one-on-one, for the veterans. That was cut down about two years ago. Now we have to go to them, if we can,” Grossinger said.
“But you’ve got people in their 80s or 90s, Second World War veterans. They’re not going to drive. They probably can’t even afford a bus ticket. Putting that on them is totally cruel,” Grossinger said.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Yukon Employees Union are adding their voices to the demand that the offices be saved.
“Our government made a promise to our veterans when they left our soil to go and fight for our country that when they returned they would be taken care of,” said Julie Docherty, the vice-president of PSAC North.
“If these offices close in 2014, our veterans are going to have to go to a Service Canada office and get in line behind someone like me who’s waiting for a passport photo. This is what we cannot let happen.” Docherty said.
Whitehorse doesn’t have a veterans’ affairs regional office. The only option here for veterans seeking help for everything from crippling psychological stress injuries to filling out weighty government forms is to either fly to Vancouver or spend hours in the labyrinth of a tele-health phone system.
Grossinger’s son Darcy also fought for his country, with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He did tours in Bosnia, Croatia and Afghanistan, and carries invisible scars for his troubles. Since coming home he’s battled with that frustrating phone tree, and been stymied by an online help system that doesn’t work.
“If you’re not willing to take care of your veterans, then you do not have the moral right to send them on these missions, into harms way,” Darcy said.
It’s unlikely that the federal government will about face and open a regional office here, but at the very least other veterans shouldn’t be abandoned the way Darcy and his father have been, he said.
“In the Yukon we haven’t had one, but I can tell you, in the communities where they are losing these offices, they are going to face a huge burden on these veterans,” Darcy said.
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