The Harper government's new federal budget was presented as a series of fiscally responsible choices to reduce government spending in a difficult economic climate. However, the timing of some of the cuts seems to ignore the impending needs of a new generation of citizen-soldiers. Cuts to the budget of Veterans Affairs Canada affect one-to-one care that veterans are receiving.
Although VAC initially stated that most of the cuts would be to management positions and not to case workers, nine regional offices in Windsor, Ont., Saskatoon, Kelowna, B.C., Prince George, B.C., Charlottetown, Thunder Bay, Ont., Brandon, Man., Sydney, N.S. and Corner Brook, N.L. are being closed down. The union that represents workers for VAC stated that by 2015, one in three frontline service workers will lose their job due to the cuts. Meanwhile, veterans in locations without an office will be routed to an American-based private insurance company. In total, VAC will lose over 700 jobs over the next three years due to a combination of internal reorganization and the 2012 budget cuts. This is at a time when Canada's involvement in Afghanistan is waning, meaning more soldiers are returning home every month and are in need of care. Nearly 4,200 Canadians who served in Afghanistan are already receiving benefits through VAC.
Senator Romeo Dallaire, a former lieutenant general who served under the United Nations in Rwanda, remarked that the cuts jeopardize the mental health of future generations of soldiers as well as those who have recently served in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Losing frontline case workers means losing face-to-face attention for soldiers, complicating the process by which a soldier receives care for mental injuries sustained in service. It is one thing to publicly say that the government is behind the troops, but it is quite another to dictate policy that has the best interest of veterans in mind. There will be more and more veterans in need of an infrastructure that can help them readjust to civilian life.
It seems that support for military spending falls under the category of supporting the troops, but providing adequate support for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder is a social program that the government views as superfluous.
The timing of these cuts is extremely worrying as Canada has built up a reputation for having an above-average support system for veterans, but even before the cuts, VAC was not swimming in federal funding. While the point that no cut is easy is well taken, cutting frontline workers for returning veterans seems counterintuitive to the world that exists outside of the balance sheet.