Watch the video above: Saskatoon veterans protest the closure of veterans affairs offices
SASKATOON – Standing as brothers-in-arms with veterans across the country, a group of Saskatoon veterans gathered Friday morning in a last ditch effort to speak out against the closure of Veterans Affairs Offices.
The Conservative Government’s decision was finalized today, and although the mood of the meeting at the Delta Bessborough was sombre, those in attendance say they haven’t surrendered.
“We gave the best years of our lives to this country and the government promised us they would look after us,” said Bill Dubinski. Having served for 28 years, 84-year-old Dubinski says the move feels like a snub – and he’s not alone.
The Union of Veterans Affairs Employees says 17,000 veterans are directly affected by the federal government’s decision to close 9 offices. The office in Prince George closed a year ago, the remaining eight in Kelowna, Brandon, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Sydney, Charlottetown, Corner Brook and Saskatoon closed Friday.
A group of about 30 people gathered today in Saskatoon, many saying they may have lost this battle but won when it mattered and they swear they’ll fight this decision with that same determination.
“To the Conservative Government I say, see you at the next election,” said union president, Yvan Thauvette.
The federal government plans to assist veterans through 600 Service Canada outlets across the country – replacing Veterans Affairs workers with Service Canada workers.
An idea Dubinski says will not work. “I can give you 600 offices too… they won’t have people who know what the hell they’re talking about.”
Veterans Affairs workers were specially trained to process claims, identify eligibility for services and assist with mental health issues such as post traumatic stress disorder. Office closures come on the heels of a number of veteran suicides in recent weeks.
Cary Tarasoff was medically released from the forces in 1990 after a training injury.
“I’m in pain all the time. I’m trembling in pain right now,” he said at the meeting Friday morning.
At his young age, Tarasoff is more familiar with the internet than Canada’s older veterans and he says the system is already a struggle even for him. Without the local office, the 4,500 clients serviced by the Saskatoon office feel their only option will be trekking to the next nearest open office in Regina.
The decision made by the Conservative Government in the 2012 budget is now finalized, but this group isn’t going down without a fight.
“There’s going to be a need for a change of government,” said Dubinski, a sentiment echoed by most in attendance.
Although the number of world war II veterans is decreasing, the average age of Canadian Forces veterans is 56-years-old.