Open Letter

October 18, 2012

Good day,

My name is Yvan Thauvette. I am the National President for the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees. With Veterans week fast approaching I think that it’s important that I share some information with you.

Please understand that the Union is supportive of Veterans Affairs Canada in the transformation of the department to enable Veterans to better access and receive their benefits. Unfortunately, this initiative is not only hampered, but crippled because of the 2012 budget cuts announcement. As the department is already cut to the bone, there is no way that they will be able to make further reductions without negatively impacting client service delivery.

Job Cuts to Veterans Affairs

The department wants to reduce their workforce by 800 positions by the end of 2015. They intend to close 9 District Offices. The VAC ADM, Keith Hillier, announced that Senior Management is embarking on an “aggressive workforce management initiative” in the coming months. The number of reductions (full time employees) is targeted at 780. So far, just over 130 jobs have been eliminated – the worst is yet to come. At the present time, no top management positions at the EX levels have been eliminated.

The average case load for a Client Service Agent (CSA) was at 800. After budget cuts, the average case load for a CSA has now increased to an average of 1200 to 1400 files each. In some offices where surplus employees left the department, the average is as high as 3600. It’s impossible for them to keep up with this case load. We are very worried with what’s next. The employer is working on reducing the number of Case Managers as well. The impact could be huge.

Our members are finding that the emotional fallout from the process has been immense and staff is still reeling from the impacts. I want you to know that VAC has been asked by Treasury Board to reduce their workforce. What the government is not telling you is that in fact the money is distributed differently. Instead of allowing VAC to use more staff, they are contracting out part of the work our members are performing, and this is not in your best interest and it is not cost effective for tax payers.

Contracting Out

Last January, the department contracted out general calls to Service Canada who then sub- contracted that back to a private company called Quantum. These general calls from veterans were previously answered by our experienced analysts from the department call centres. In the beginning, 85% of the calls going through Service Canada were transferred back to our Call Centres because their staff was not able to answer the clients’ questions. That has since been reduced to 60% because their voice mail message was changed, but I don’t see why those numbers would go down.

The private company doesn’t know our programs and the services we deliver. Most of the time, they give the wrong information and we have proof of that. That also means that you and I are paying for the same service twice. How will they be able to handle your private information if that private company has access to your change of address, notification of death and direct deposit? Those questions weren’t answered by the department when we asked the question. They are still working on it was their answer.

Can we rely on the Minister’s announcement when he said:  “We are pursuing the highest standards in privacy protection so that all Veterans can be confident their personal information is safe and their rights are being fully respected.”

The department also contracted some of our members’ work to a private company, Medavie Blue Cross. The cost of that contract was over a $100M in 2002. Because the department is giving them additional work, it will most likely double in 2012/2013. The department wants veterans to be seen as any other regular citizen from now on. They only want veterans to receive their benefits from an insurance company. We believe that there are no measures that have been put in place to ensure quality services from the private company.

Impact on Veterans

While, Prime Minister Harper and Minister Blaney have smilingly assured Canadians that Veterans will see less red  tape and now have over 600 service locations across Canada, sadly, this is far from the truth.

In fact, what follows is a prime example of what doesn’t work: Recently a 92 year old Veteran client attended the Service Canada Office in Kelowna where our VAC office is co-housed. The Veteran stood in line with his walker for 40 minutes to be told by Service Canada that he can no longer access the VAC staff in the same building. He was led to a computer terminal and given brief instructions on how to apply for benefits. At 92 years old, it's no surprise that this gentleman wasn't able to comprehend what the agent was telling him and requested that she assist him. She apologized and advised the client that she is not authorized to assist in this manner. This War Veteran then returned to his vehicle and made the lengthy commute back to his home where he called the toll free number and started his enquiry all over again. The story doesn’t tell me if he received a reply from Veterans Affairs or Service Canada. How appalling that our War Veterans and our elderly are being treated so poorly.

It won’t be any different with the younger Veterans in the near future. Who will you rely on if you have concerns or questions about your own file if there is very few staff left within the department? It’s great to have access to a computer, but Veterans deserve a live body to guide them through the systems and tell them what type of benefits they are entitled to receive.

District Offices Closure

If you look at the numbers, how can the department close 9 District Offices without having an impact on services? Those offices are located in Sydney, Corner Brook, Charlottetown, Windsor, Thunder Bay, Brandon, Saskatoon, Kelowna and Prince George. According to the department’s numbers, those offices deal on an average with 2800 to 4200 clients, including veterans, spouses, and RCMP. This department is slamming the door on Veterans.

The government promised Veterans a department and high quality services. From the examples provided, it is quite apparent that the Department of Veterans Affairs is currently struggling to fulfill their mandate.  After the remaining 600 positions are eliminated, the service and benefits to veterans will not be improved as promised, but rather diminished with larger caseloads and less assistance to access programs. The department's mandate will be near impossible to maintain.

Our members are under enormous pressure. They have too much respect to let go of the quality and the quantity of services they delivered to our veterans in the past.

A Veteran is a Veteran is a Veteran. You all need to be served like the heroes of our nation.

Please feel free to contact me or any of my National Executive on any questions or concerns you may have. 

In Solidarity, 
 

Yvan Thauvette,
National President,
UVAE