The Closure of Veterans Affairs Canada Area Offices
Ottawa - February 7, 2014
As most of you may know, last Friday – January 31, 2014 – Veterans Affairs Canada closed eight of its area offices: Kelowna, British Columbia; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Brandon, Manitoba; Thunder Bay and Windsor, Ontario; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Sydney, Nova Scotia, and; Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador. In the month prior to that, it had also closed its area office in Prince George, British Columbia.
I know that many Veterans, serviced traditionally by these offices, are worried about the closures and the negative impact that this action could have on their ability to continue to receive the services they rely on from Veterans Affairs Canada frontline workers. The Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Department have assured Veterans in the concerned areas that things will continue as before – just not in the same location. Now they have to go to their local Service Canada office to meet with a departmental Client Service Agent or Service Canada staff. In addition, they have been assured by the Minister and Veterans Affairs Canada, as well as others, that departmental staff will continue to meet with them face-to-face, as required.
I have heard the concerns of Veterans from across the country about these office closures, and I want to assure Veterans and their families that my team and I are following this issue closely to ensure that the promises made to them about the office closures are kept. As an evidence-based organization, we will rely on observations from Veterans who are negatively affected by the closures to understand where issues exist and determine what recommendations need to be made to the Minister of Veterans Affairs.
As professionals, Veterans expect to be treated with honesty and transparency. They are problem solvers by training and they expect that Veterans Affairs Canada will enter into an open and honest exchange of information with them in order to address their circumstances and needs. Given what they have done for our country, when Veterans are not treated in this way, they have the right to strongly question the decision-making process of the Department.
From the beginning, Veterans Affairs Canada should have communicated much more clearly with the Veterans who would be directly impacted by these office closures, sharing with them their reasoning based on evidence indicating, for example, the type and volume of workload of each of the offices. Instead, Veterans received a general form letter that contained little of the information that they needed to understand the area office closures and how their services would be affected.
Timely and efficient access to information and resources for Veterans must always be a priority for Veterans Affairs Canada. It is clear from what has happened on this issue that the Department needs to increase transparency and focus more on citizen engagement.
I encourage anyone who is having difficulty accessing information and services following the closure of the Veterans Affairs Canada area offices to call my office directly at 1-877-330-4343.
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