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Veterans office closures questioned

OTTAWA - It seems that a move to staff Service Canada locations with people who have expertise in the affairs of Canadian Forces veterans will only be a temporary measure.

The union representing Veterans Affairs staff and ex-soldiers across the country are fighting the closure of offices in Corner Brook, Charlottetown, Sydney, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Brandon, Saskatoon and Kelowna.

Veterans in those locations are being told they'll have to contact the federal government's one-stop service centres, which handle employment insurance and pension claims, among other things.

Under fire in the House of Commons last month, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino said his department would have one member assigned to each of the Service Canada offices in the affected communities after the closures on Jan. 31.

But last week, Charlotte Bastien, the director general of field operations at Veterans Affairs, apparently told Kim Coles, the national executive vice-president of the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees, that the measure would only last three months and involve only part-time workers.

The union is accusing Fantino of misleading veterans.

Veterans have staged protests in various locations over the closures, which include an office in Prince George, B.C., that was shut down almost a year ago.

They say, among other things, the personalized and confidential service they receive from existing staff will be lost.

A spokesman for Fantino denied the assignments are only temporary and part-time in nature.

Joshua Zanin says there is "no pre-determined time limit for these postings" and the jobs will be full-time.

In letters to individual veterans, on Nov. 28, the department promised an "ongoing" presence at Service Canada centres, a partnership that was first initiated in the summer of 2012.

The document also assured clients that case managers would continue personalized visits to ensure individual needs are addressed.

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