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Friday August 28 2015
3:10 PM EDT
2014-01-31 at 16:36

'A disgrace'

A veteran places a poppy on a wreath laid outside the city
Jodi Lundmark, tbnewswatch.com
A veteran places a poppy on a wreath laid outside the city's veterans affairs office on Red River Road Friday morning. Local veterans and supporters held a memorial service for the office, which closes its doors for the last time Friday.
By Jodi Lundmark, tbnewswatch.com

Rotten, discouraged and bewildered.

That's how Second World War navy veteran Roy Lamore felt after local veterans and supporters held a memorial service for the city's veterans affairs office on Red River Road Friday morning.

The local office is one of eight across the country closing permanently after Friday, leaving the closest veterans affairs office in Winnipeg, an eight hour drive away. The closest office to the east is in North Bay.

For a 21-year-old veteran, an eight hour drive might not seem so bad, but Lamore said there's is no way that will work for older veterans who are in their 80s and 90s.

"If they think these fellas 89 and 90 and up are going to be the best guys on computers, that's wrong. They want to meet a person face-to-face," he said. "That's a disgrace to take that away. Give them 10 more years; let them die in glory."

Lamore joined other veterans in Ottawa earlier this week to meet with Julian Fantino, the minister of veterans affairs, and he wasn't pleased when the minister sent three other men Lamore described as twentysomething veterans in his place.

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"How does that look, them sending veterans to fight veterans?" said Lamore. "It was a disgrace."

The loss of the local office won't just be difficult for older veterans who aren't familiar with computers, said Robin Rickards, an 11-year veteran with the Canadian Armed Forces.

The Thunder Bay man served once in Bosnia and three times in Afghanistan and said many issues veterans face are latent, particularly operational stress injuries (OSIs).

"A lot of guys don't realize they have it until later on in life and a lot of times they're difficult to diagnose so having staff here helps ease that transition particularly because what will end up happening is guys get frustrated," he said.

Navigating operating systems over the phone or online can be tough and often vets will hang up in frustration and try to deal with their issues alone.

"They really can't and they really don't achieve what they could in life because they're not getting the support they need," Rickards said.

And having young policymakers in Ottawa talk about online portals with apps for tablets doesn't mean much to older veterans, he added.

"It would be no different than if those old veterans came along and started talking military briefings to the twentysomethings in Ottawa; they wouldn't know what the terms are," said Rickards.

Closing the offices takes the human face away from government and Rickards said that makes it difficult for average Canadians to access the services they rely on.

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The government is closing the veterans affairs offices to balance the books and while Rickards believes fiscal responsibility is important, he said it shouldn't be done at the expense of veterans.

"If the government is willing to balance the books on the backs of veterans who fought for their country, been wounded and require the services that are handled by veterans affairs, who won't they balance the books on the back of?" he said.

The closure of the Thunder Bay office could also mean added pressure to the local legions.

Royal Canadian Legion Port Arthur Branch No. 5 president Rob Cutbush said the RCL is the country's largest veteran service organization and their branch is the only one in the city open seven days a week.

"I feel with this downsizing of services, the government has now downloaded to a not-for-profit, non-government organization a problem that we as a veterans organization are going to have to take care of," he said, adding it's disheartening since they don't receive any federal funding, tax breaks or subsidies.

"That really disturbs me."

And Cutbush said the legion just doesn't have the resources to fulfill the need.

"We can't operate 24/7 or even bankers hours Monday to Friday. It's not feasible. We just don't have the volunteers to do it."


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