Veterans vow to occupy Sydney office in protest of Veterans Affairs closures
Published Tuesday, January 28, 2014 7:21PM AST
A group of servicemen and women have settled in at the Veterans Affairs office in Sydney, N.S. as they fight to keep the office from closing.
The group says they intend to occupy the office until their voices are heard.
Vince Rigby knows the importance of the Veterans Affairs office firsthand; he went there when the physical and mental scars from his tour in Bosnia forced his military retirement.
“This office here, when I first started out, saved my life,” says Rigby. “If it wasn’t for this office, I wouldn’t be here today.”
The office is there to help veterans with everything from pension papers to post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Sydney location is among eight centres slated to shut down Friday. Offices in Kelowna, B.C., Saskatoon, Brandon, Man., Thunder Bay, Ont., Windsor, Ont., Charlottetown and Corner Brook, N.L. are also closing. A ninth office has already closed in Prince George, B.C.
“It’s a sense of impending doom,” says veteran Alfie Burt. “It’s coming right down to the wire and we’re staying here right to the very end.”
The group is also there to support the 17 employees that are set to lose their jobs.
Veteran Donald Gardiner says he found a card that describes how he feels about the employees.
“It says, ‘I have seen and met with angels, wearing the disguise of ordinary people, living ordinary lives.’ That explains perfectly what these people do for us in here,” says Gardiner.
The group’s occupy efforts come as a delegation of veterans from across the country protest the closures on Parliament Hill.
The government has maintained veterans will still get home visits from case workers and can visit Service Canada offices for help, or access it online or by phone.
However, veterans say that won’t be good enough. The military worries what effect the closures could have, given the mental health struggles some of their members already endure.
"We're very concerned about it, a cluster of suicides before Christmas and more already to start the year has our great concern," says Military Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson.
The delegation of veterans will get an opportunity to voice their concerns to Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino at a meeting expected late Tuesday.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Ryan MacDonald