Conservative MP’s meet area veterans, defend closure of VAC offices


Essex MP Jeff Watson and Durham MP Erin O’Toole discuss issues with area veterans last Thursday. The two Conservative MP’s heard concerns from  veterans and also defended the government’s new model for Veteran’s Affairs Canada (VAC) offices.

Essex MP Jeff Watson and Durham MP Erin O’Toole discuss issues with area veterans last Thursday. The two Conservative MP’s heard concerns from
veterans and also defended the government’s new model for Veteran’s Affairs Canada (VAC) offices.

By Ron Giofu


Essex MP Jeff Watson welcomed a Conservative colleague to the riding last Thursday where they met with several veterans groups on a number of issues.

Watson and Durham MP Erin O’Toole met with veterans in the riding including holding meetings at the Ciociaro Club in Oldcastle. The Conservative MP’s defended the closure of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) offices, believing the new format will actually lead to better services for veterans.

Watson said it was a “constructive” day of dialogue with local veterans and believed it allowed them to vent concerns and “be assured they are getting the programs and services they need.” According to Watson, merging VAC offices into the Service Canada network will allow local veterans greater access to services in places like Amherstburg, Belle River and Leamington while finding greater efficiencies within the system.

“The old model of VAC’s were not effective,” said Watson. “We had six unionized employees in a 10,000 square foot building managing 23 cases.”

The government has allocated $5 billion for veterans, Watson added, and they want to make sure they are getting maximum return for their resources.

O’Toole stated the merger of Service Canada and VAC’s not only creates efficiencies, but it allows the government to do such things as open 17 stress injury clinics across the country to help deal with the challenges as the increased number of mental health issues reported in veterans.

“We’ve seen a rise in need for mental health services,” O’Toole acknowledged.

Watson noted by merging VAC’s with Service Canada, savings can be redirected into such things as mental health services, pensions and benefits and “not employing six people in a huge building with a lot of overhead.” He added he performed a survey where he asked veterans if they use a VAC and, if so, what for. The findings were that many went there to chat, to pick up or drop off a form or in “rare” cases to have a case manager assigned to them.

In literature distributed by O’Toole, it made many of the same points that Watson outlined but added that VAC offices often have a Service Canada office nearby, sometimes within the same building.

Many of those services will be available through Service Canada, stated Watson, and that those who do need case managers will see them come to their homes.

“They’ve lost nothing for what the VAC office did,” he claimed.

Watson also maintained O’Toole’s visit allowed the two of them to cut through misinformation they believed the veterans were given. Much of that information was given out through the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), they alleged.

“What (the veterans) were given was not accurate information,” said Watson.

There were also systemic issues discussed with the veterans, the Conservative MP’s added, with Watson stating it was PSAC preventing the government from firing “incompetent workers” that were working on the claims of veterans.

Local veterans were assured by Watson that he will sit down with them twice per year to identify issues, including those directly from Ottawa, and try and resolve them.

“They have that commitment from me and we will be working in that fashion,” said Watson.

Issues of having veterans return to the work force was also addressed, Watson added.

O’Toole, himself having served as a commissioned officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force and also as the current parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Trade, said he and Watson have discussed these issues many times in Ottawa and believes much of the concern amongst veterans comes from fear and uncertainty. He believed a lot of that was addressed in the meetings.

“Sometimes change creates its own set of challenges,” he said.

O’Toole also believed the meetings accomplished their objectives. Many veterans were able to freely discuss their concerns with many “still having frustration on their faces” from dealing with decades-old issues.

“We had a really good discussion. It was productive,” said O’Toole.

Watson emphasized the VAC offices are playing a different role and that role has to be adapted going into the future. He said the government has been battling misinformation and “unions fighting for the status quo.” He said the latter is not only happening in veteran’s affairs.

“It’s happening in every department of government,” said Watson.

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