November 9, 2013 4:52 pm
Updated: November 9, 2013 7:47 pm

Thousands protest Veterans Affairs office closure in Sydney

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Watch: The move is being called unfair and some say it will leave tens-of-thousands of veterans without the vital services they need. Natasha Pace reports.

Sydney, N.S. – More than 3,000 people shut down a city block in the heart of downtown Sydney Saturday to protest upcoming changes to the way services are provided to veterans.

The changes mean those who are disabled, sick or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, will have to travel, sometimes hours, to receive help.

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“We provide front line face-to-face services for our clients. One-on-one services,” said Brenda LeBlanc, one of 17 employees who will be out of work when the office closes.

“Right here in this area, these case workers, they know us. I’m not alone. There’s a number of us here with the same problem and when we talk to them, they know just exactly how to handle us,” said Ron Clarke, a 36-year veteran.

In total, nine offices are shutting across the country in a move that will affect nearly 28,000 veterans.

Veterans Affairs says veterans can go to Service Canada to receive help or use a new app on smartphones to access the services they need.

Many people at the rally said that is unrealistic since their clients range in age from 18 to 101 years old.

“If you picture the age of some of the veterans or some of the conditions some of them have, our younger clientele, some of them suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, depression, road rage, obsessive compulsive disorder. There’s no way they’re going to be able to get in a car and drive for five to six hours. Not to mention, unless they’re going to the Halifax office for a medical appointment, their travel is not going to be paid. So they’re covering this on their own dime,” said Jennifer McNenly, an employee at the Sydney Veterans Affairs office.

“How [will] our older veterans get things? They can barely use a telephone,” said Clarence Dawe.

“A lot of these people didn’t return from overseas, and the ones who did deserve our support,” said Robert Hardy as he held an old photo of his Uncle Bob.

“[My uncle] gave his life for Canada in the Second World War, the Italian theatre. He never came back. I know he’d be here today supporting the cause so I’m here in place of my uncle, my father and my grandmother who is a Silver Cross mother.”

Veterans are getting supporters to fill out thousands of postcards and mail them to the federal government.

“We owe you thanks. Not only during Remembrance Day but every single day, 24/7, 365 days of the year,” said Jim Karygiannis, Liberal MP for the Ontario riding of Scarborough-Agincourt.

Veterans are vowing to continue their fight and force Ottawa to reconsider the decision.

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