Vacant veteran offices leave gaps

Vets: service to country reciprocated with 'runaround'

Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod recently said basic veterans services formerly offered at the closed Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) offices – including at Kelowna and Prince George – are now available at the 600 Service Canada locations across the country.

However, Royal Canadian Legion Branch #260-100 Mile House president Bob Wangensteen says local veterans are now required to travel to Penticton for in-person assistance with their unique and often significant needs.

There used to be a VAC representative working out of Kelowna who would try to come up to 100 Mile House every month, he adds.

“He’d see everybody he could. Those with more serious problems, he helped them. But they just closed that whole office and you know, to hell with it.

“Most of the time now, everything is done over the phone, through the 1-800 number.”

Regarding veterans with mental health issues, as such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Wangensteen says for many, it is a huge challenge to travel anywhere.

“The closest Service Canada is Williams Lake … and I don’t know how effective it is.”

Service Canada in Williams Lake is listed at 1-800-622-6232, which redirects the caller to someone outside of British Columbia. Callers are then told while financial and medical plan services are handled at the Williams Lake office, in-person help requires the person to go to the Penticton Veterans Affairs office. Other assistance is requested through another toll-free general number (1-866-522-2122) for that.

“I work with a couple here that are battling PTSD,” says Wangensteen. “They had to deal with the 1-800 number and back east.

“The problem you run into is, for somebody with PTSD, they don’t have the patience to jump through hoops … so while it may be there, it is sometimes quite unobtainable for them.”

The federal government is indicating the services are all still out there and veterans can go ahead and access it, he notes.

“Well, they can’t access it when they have PTSD.”

Some veterans with PTSD are uncomfortable leaving their home, let alone travelling to a strange place in another city, Wangensteen explains.

“They are not going to fill out form after form after form, and mail it here and mail it there and all the rest of it. It’s a long, drawn-out process, and that restricts many of them from accessing it.”

He adds local veterans’ requests for help often go back and forth when they get rejected for seemingly minor missing items that could be better expedited in person.

Wangensteen says the “runaround” these veterans get when they phone or mail in forms asking for help is “disgraceful.”

Information and links for veterans are online at www.veterans.gc.ca, and www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/audiences/veterans/index.shtml.