Too lit­tle, too late?

Hir­ing four ex­tra case man­agers not im­press­ing lo­cal vet­er­ans’ ad­vo­cates


For­mer Cana­dian re­servist Vince Rigby says he won’t buy into the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s plan to hire four case man­agers to sup­port vet­er­ans un­til they’re hired.

Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Min­is­ter Erin O’Toole made a sur­prise stopover in Syd­ney on Thurs­day to an­nounce the case­work­ers would work out of the in­te­grated per­son­nel sup­port cen­tre at the Vic­to­ria Park gar­ri­son in Syd­ney.

The cen­tres are a joint part­ner­ship be­tween Vet­er­ans Af- fairs Canada and the Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence to help reg­u­lar and re­serve per­son­nel, vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies make the tran­si­tion back to civil­ian life.

In Hal­i­fax on Fri­day, the min­is­ter an­nounced a to­tal of 146 new hires by March 2016 in At­lantic Canada, in­clud­ing 34 case man­agers and 52 dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits staff.

O’Toole, who wasn’t avail­able for an in­ter­view, told CBC on Thurs­day there are about 140 vet­er­ans in the Syd­ney area with “com­pli­cated cases” that need the ad­di­tional sup­port of a case man­ager.

“For those more com­plex cases, we’re now go­ing to be hav­ing re­sources em­bed­ded right here along­side the Cana­dian Armed Forces in Syd­ney,” O’Toole said.

The po­si­tions should be filled “within the com­ing months,” he said.

The depart­ment said it plans to re­duce its case man­ager ra­tio to no more than 30 peo­ple for ev­ery case man­ager.

In to­tal, Vet­er­ans Af­fairs plans to fill 309 po­si­tions across the coun­try by 2020.

“Un­til I see them put some­one down there, I don’t be­lieve a word they’re say­ing,” said Rigby, the pres­i­dent of Mari- juana for Trauma/ Vet­er­ans Help­ing Vet­er­ans in Syd­ney.

Rigby, 50, takes medic­i­nal mar­i­juana to ease symp­toms of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, among other ail­ments from two de­ploy­ments as a United Na­tions peace­keeper in Cyprus and Bos­nia.

He had to leave the re­serves in 2002 due to poor health.

Since the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs of­fice in Syd­ney closed in Fe­bru­ary 2014, the es­ti­mated 5,000 vet­er­ans in Cape Bre­ton have had ac­cess to one case­worker op­er­at­ing out of the Ser­vice Canada of­fice on Dorch­ester Street, Rigby said.

A toll-free num­ber to des­ig­nated Ser­vice Canada em­ploy­ees, as well as a smart­phone app, were mea­sures im­ple­mented by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to as­sist vet­er­ans.

Rigby said some con­cerns are bet­ter dealt with face-to­face.

On the tele­phone, he has been told con­ver­sa­tions have to be lim­ited to 20 min­utes be­cause of the work­load.

He said some prob­lems he has faced couldn’t be solved dur­ing a brief dis­cus­sion over the phone.

It took seven months for Rigby to work through a Vet­er­ans Af­fairs’ ap- peal process to re­ceive ap­proval to buy a lift chair to make liv­ing at home eas­ier, he said.

“They lit­er­ally make us bend over back­wards to beg for the stuff that we need.”

He said the ap­peal process is made longer and more con­vo­luted be­cause the staff lack the skills and time to do the work prop­erly.

For vet­er­ans ad­vo­cate Ron Clarke, a North Syd­ney res­i­dent, the added staff an­nounced by O’Toole con­firmed what he and other vet­er­ans have been say­ing all along.

De­spite adding re­sources, Clarke said he would still be fight­ing to re­open all nine Vet­er­ans Af­fairs of­fices that were closed across the coun­try.

“It’s ob­vi­ous the gov­ern­ment re­al­izes they’re in trou­ble,” Clarke said.

Both he and Rigby re­turned Thurs­day from Hal­i­fax where they joined with union lead­ers from the Public Ser­vice Al­liance of Canada to wage a cam­paign against the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment lead­ing to elec­tion day in Oc­to­ber.

“We’ll be work­ing to­gether to bring down the Harper gov­ern­ment,” Clarke said.


Vince Rigby, who served in Cyprus and Bos­nia over a 22-year ca­reer as a Cana­dian re­servist, says Vet­er­ans Af­fairs plan to hire four case man­agers for Cape Bre­ton vets is a ploy to shore up voter sup­port three months from a fed­eral elec­tion.


The four Vet­er­ans Af­fairs case man­agers will work out of the in­te­grated per­son­nel sup­port cen­tre at the Vic­to­ria Park gar­ri­son in Syd­ney’s north end.


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