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.