August 10, 2016 8:02 pm
Updated: August 11, 2016 7:24 am

Federal minister pledges Saskatoon’s Veterans Affairs office will reopen

WATCH ABOVE: For more than a year and a half military veterans in and around Saskatoon have used a call centre to ask questions about benefits or to complete important paper work, but that is about to change. Joel Senick reports.

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Saskatoon’s Veteran Affairs Canada office will reopen in November, according to a federal minister who made the announcement Wednesday morning.

The new office will be located in downtown Saskatoon on 22nd Street East and employ seven staff who will serve roughly 2,900 veterans. In the interim, veterans can access in-person help at the Service Canada location in the same building.

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“This is a start, we will evaluate how things are going and should there be more staff needed, we will hire appropriately,” Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr said to reporters after the announcement.

‘It will go a long way to improve veterans and their family’s lives.”

READ MORE: Saskatoon’s Veterans Affairs office may re-open

The Saskatoon office was closed in January 2014, along with a number of other locations, as the former government moved to consolidate services.

The decision meant veterans like Cary Tarasoff had to deal with caseworkers over the phone, rather than in person.

“When you have somebody, you run in face-to-face and they know you and they take the paperwork from you and they deal with it, it just gives you less stress,” Tarasoff said in an interview Wednesday.

Tarasoff said he’s optimistic the reopening will benefit peacetime veterans like him, but stressed that he’s more concerned about those who went off to war and now need treatment.

“The guys who are real war vets and have served in combat should be held to a better standard and given better treatment,” he said.

The initial reaction to Wednesday’s announcement was “cautious optimism” for Marianne Hladun, the executive director of the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s Prairie region. The group represents Veterans Affairs employees.

“Our concern at this point is that they’re not giving any indication as to how they’re going to staff the office,” Hladun said.

“The problem is the Veterans Affairs Department was already under the gun from the conservative government, they were already understaffed.”

READ MORE: Saskatoon veterans reflect on a year without Veterans Affairs

Hehr said his office will work to hire up to 400 new employees to ensure that case managers do not support more than 25 veterans at any given time.

The measures are all part of a 2015 election promise that would have been harder for the Liberals not to keep, according to political scientist Gerg Poelzer.

“This is a campaign promise that on one hand is a very popular one to do, it’s the right thing to do and there’s a huge amount of public support for doing it,” said Poelzer, who is a professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

“Short-changing veterans right now is a no-go.”

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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