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This Service Canada branch in downtown Regina will be the only one in the province still housing a Veterans Affairs office, after the Saskatoon location closes on Friday. Photo by Brady Knight.

A Saskatoon man who served in the Canadian military for more than 25 years says the federal government is penny-pinching at the expense of veterans. Al Boyce served overseas in Europe and was part of the first F-18 squadron to fly into the Gulf War. He's not happy with the news eight Veterans Affairs offices will close across the country on Friday afternoon, including one in Saskatoon.

 

"I think the northern part of the province is being missed," he said. "From Saskatoon north they have to go all the way to Regina. Anybody who wants to be served in person now has to drive all the way to Regina to talk to an agent."

 

A contingent of veterans were in Ottawa yesterday meeting with political leaders, including Veteran Affairs minister Julian Fantino, in a last-minute effort to stop the closures. The group is also receiving support from the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees and the Public Service Alliance of Canada. UVAE president Yvan Thauvette said they're disappointed.

 

"I think (veterans) deserve the best services and I think that for the last three to four years we saw the quality of service go down and down and down, and that's not helping that population," he said.

 

At press time, the department of Veterans Affairs had not returned phone or email requests for comment. However the government has claimed in various media outlets they are actually increasing the points of service by more than 600 locations, referring to the Service Canada branches that will be taking over from the closed Veterans Affairs offices.

 

But Thauvette said that's misleading.

 

"The government's telling them that they will have 600 additional points of contact with Service Canada. But we all know that Service Canada won't be able to deliver the same type of services," he said.

 

"If a veteran goes to a Service Canada office, they will either be offered the computer, the 1-800 number or they will be given the form to complete by themselves, with no help or no support from the Service Canada employee."

 

Boyce isn't convinced this level of service will be adequate.

 

"Everything you want to do with the government you have to go through Service Canada and it seems like you never ever talk to anybody anymore," he said. "Some of the older people are getting a little frustrated they can't talk to somebody."

 

Thauvette says the government's poor web infrastructure isn't helping the situation.

 

"I talked to a young veteran yesterday - 30 years old, pretty savvy with a computer - but he said to me it's very hard to navigate through the Veteran Affairs website to try to find the forms, to try to create your VAC account. He said that what would have taken 10 to 15 minutes going to an office, took a whole week. So that tells you a lot."

 

"What we're seeing and thinking is that maybe the government wants fewer clients," said Thauvette. "That's it - they want to see fewer clients, or clients will fall through the cracks"

 

In the end Boyce said this isn't the place to cut corners.

 

"I get the impression that since we're moving out of Afghanistan I think the government's trying to save money and I think they're doing it at people's expense. I don't really blame Veteran Affairs because they were told to cut so many dollars and I hope they're trying to do the best they can and to serve the veterans."

 

In addition to Saskatoon, the government is also closing offices in Corner Brook, Sydney, Charlottetown, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Brandon and Kelowna.