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New facility in Sydney aims to fill void left by Veterans Affairs office closure
A brand new drop-in centre serving veterans is about to open in Sydney, filling a void created more than a year ago when the Veterans Affairs office there closed down.
The Sydney office was one of eight across the country the federal government shut down in early 2014, creating outrage as Ottawa sought to replace them with online or phone-in services.
But on Monday, after nine months of planning, veterans in Sydney will have a bricks-and-mortar facility they can visit to get help accessing services.
“We'll help with their appeals, we'll help with their pension. If they’re on loads of medications we will recommend them, if they want, for medical marijuana … and basically help them with their paperwork,” said Vince Rigby, the new centre’s president.
The centre is being funded by Marijuana For Trauma Inc., a Fredericton-based organization providing medical cannabis consultation to people in need, especially veterans and emergency responders suffering from trauma or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Marijuana For Trauma was founded by a veteran who developed PTSD after serving in Afghanistan.
Rigby, a veteran, says cannabis treatment helped him with his own struggles.
“The medicine that we are using, is much better than — well, myself, I was taking 22 pills a day, plus,” he said.
“Now I'm down to three. So this is doing me good.”
While cannabis treatment may not be for everyone, for veterans in Cape Breton the new centre means they will have a place to go to get the help they need.
Debra Gyorfi, who worked at the old Veterans Affairs office for several years after serving more than two decades in the military, says the new centre will do what the online and phone-in system does not.
“The telephone system does not work,” Gyorfi said.
“You’re going from one (operator) to another to another and having to explain your story each time, and a lot of vets can't do that,” she said.
Blair MacIvor, who lives with PTSD after serving in the Canadian Army for 20 years, says the new centre will be an important place for veterans.
“We ourselves, the people who are still living, of course didn't do the greatest sacrifice, but a lot of us sacrificed our mental well-being, our family life, our quality of life, and none of that will ever come back to the way it was,” he said.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kyle Moore