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Angry crowd of 3,000 demands Veterans Affairs office stay operational in Sydney.

And why in 2009 did Veterans Affairs destroy 27,381 boxes of veterans' medical records?

by Miles Howe

Close to 3,000 veterans and their allies showed up in Sydney to rally against their Veterans Affairs office slated closure. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Close to 3,000 veterans and their allies showed up in Sydney to rally against their Veterans Affairs office slated closure. [Photo: Miles Howe]
[Photo: Miles Howe]
[Photo: Miles Howe]
[Photo: Miles Howe]
[Photo: Miles Howe]
[Photo: Miles Howe]
[Photo: Miles Howe]

SYDNEY, NOVA SCOTIA – It was an angry crowd of about 3,000 veterans and their allies that today marched through the streets of Sydney, determined not to let their Veterans Affairs office – and the face-to-face service delivery upon which close to 4000 veterans in the region depend – close.

In their hyper-militarization of the Canadian economy, with spending on the Canadian military set to soon hit the $25 billion mark (at a rate that also far outpaces world military spending trends, except for that of the United States of America), the Harper government appears to have made a key omission in their logic when they recently announced that, soon after Remembrance Day, nine Veterans Affairs offices will be closing.

From a strictly economic sense, downsizing after-service care for veterans - especially for younger service people returning from theatres of war with a variety of post-traumatic related ailments - reduces their potential and capability to return to becoming fully productive members of the capitalist machine.

From an altruistic sense, forcing elderly veterans on Cape Breton Island to drive five to six hours to Halifax, just for a human interaction with a case worker in a Veterans Affairs office, risks being understandably interpreted as unduly cruel to a segment of the population that has already suffered greatly.

These offices – and the case workers and managers who provide assistance – are, from the testimonies of many of the veterans today on scene at the march, lifelines without which their quality of life would be greatly reduced.

To offer up a telephone service, a website and a phone ‘app’in their stead suggests a federal government leadership style that has begun to dangerously detach itself from the reality and concerns of the constituents that may have actually voted them into power.

“I don’t even know what an ‘apps’ is,” says Ron Clarke, a 36 year veteran. "But this office is my lifeline. My lifeline. I'm one of the sufferers of post-traumatic stress, and there are some of us on Cape Breton Island, and we need it."

Jim Karygiannis, federal Liberal Veterans Affairs critic, suggests that the issue of office closures is only the tip of the iceberg of the Conservative government's grander scheme of leaving veterans without recourse to assistance or programming. Karygiannis notes that he has been made aware that in 2009, the department of Veterans Affairs ordered 27,381 boxes of veterans' medical records destroyed. Karygiannis could not even hesitate a guess as to how many records were contained within each box, but is it safe to say it's probably more than one.

"I can't do the math because I don't know how many records were in each box," says Karygiannis. "But the question is, were those vets notified? I know of three vets, whose files I'm working on, who had medical records that were [destroyed]."

As far as a response from his Conservative Cabinet counterpart, Veterans Affairs minister Julian Fantino, Karygiannis says the response over these missing records has been totally lacking.

"[They just say] I don't know what I'm talking about," says Karygiannis. "And that's from the Minister, department secretary and staff. But Kenneth Young, one of the vets that gave me this [information], his file went missing and he's now before the Supreme Court of Canada."

Judging from the mood of the crowd, which included declarations that whoever tries to close the office in Sydney will have to drag people out "kicking and screaming", as well as the surfacing of information that thousands of medical records have been destroyed, this is an issue that will continue to haunt the Harper government for the coming weeks.

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