There were stories of opposition, a lack of support, and ongoing battles between veterans (or their loved ones) and Veterans Affairs at a Gord Johns town hall meeting at the Qualicum Beach legion on Thursday, July 5.
There were also some stories of caring and support.
Made the NDP’s critic on veterans affairs on Feb. 1 of this year, Courtenay-Alberni MP Johns set out on a series of public discussions on veterans’ issues starting July 3 in Port Alberni, later arriving to Qualicum Beach July 5.
With about 15 people in attendance (including military veterans, RCMP veterans, and spouses of veterans), Johns made clear that his intention with these meetings was to take note of issues, concerns and comments from veterans and their families, and either work to help them individually if possible, or put pressure on the government and/or Veterans Affairs Canada to address these issues.
Some of those at the meeting described an adversarial relationship between them and Veterans Affairs, some saying they feel as if the department is working to find ways to deny benefits.
One spouse of a veteran described her ongoing battle with the department, discussing how she is on her third appeal in relation to a delayed surgery.
“I just think that the system is set up to say ‘no,’” she said.
A veteran, who said he had PTSD and had a compassion dog, said he hopes that Johns could secure federal funding for compassion dog services, as currently there isn’t any, he said.
While Johns said there is a small amount of money in the federal government’s budget for compassion dogs, he said it’s only available as a sort of tax deduction, and is “far from ideal.”
Other veterans described how they had been denied support for things such as electric scooters.
Some at the meeting discussed how they had had positive experiences with Veterans Affairs, describing how representatives had done their best to get what they needed.
“We’ve had positive comments every day,” said Johns of his previous meetings with veterans on the topic. “It’s a mixed bag.”
Attendees of the meeting discussed how many veterans continue to have a service-mentality, or feel as if they are not as bad off as others, making them less likely to pursue their benefits, especially when hurdles are put in their way.
Johns talked about how government veterans support services in the U.S.A. have a much higher percentage of veterans working for them than in Canada, and said that pushing for an increase in Canada will be one of his goals.
Other attendees of the meeting said they often hear about new programs being rolled out, but noted that there doesn’t seem to be enough people to run them.
Johns commented that bureaucrats have recently noted they are struggling to delivering core services, much less new programs.
He added that he’s concerned about money earmarked for veterans going unspent, saying that will be another focus for him as veterans affairs critic.
Johns held another vetrans issues meeting in Parksville later on July 5.