Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino has announced a government initiative that would give priority and more employment opportunities in the federal public service to veterans and personnel who are released from the Canadian Armed Forces.

Fantino's announcement builds on measures introduced in the 2014 budget, as well as those previously announced last fall.

"We are committed to assisting you and to giving you new options once your time in uniform is complete," Fantino said before an audience of uniformed personnel at the Denison Armoury. 

Basically, honourably discharged CAF veterans and personnel who have at least three years of military service will given preference in external hiring processes for up to five years after their release date.

As well, they will also be able to apply for internal job postings in the federal public service for up to five years after their release date. 

"Canadian Armed Forces personnel and veterans who have served for at least three years have gained skills, knowledge and attributes to be an asset to the federal public service," Fantino said. 

"As well, three years of military service demonstrates a clear commitment to Canada."

Budget 2014 introduced amendments to the Public Service Employment Act that would give statutory priority hiring to veterans and personnel who are medically released due to a service-related injury or illness, and extend the period of priority hiring to five years after their release date, up from two years.

These changes are expected to come into force in 2014-2015.

According to Veterans Affairs, an average of 7,600 CAF personnel leave the military each year, including about 1,000 who are medically released.

Federal cuts threatened veterans' hiring

In 2012, CBC News reported that federal cuts to the civil service were threatening a program that hires qualified medically released veterans in government departments.

Upon release, veterans were placed on a priority hiring list for a two-year period. If they failed to find a job within the two years, they would be removed from the list. 

Part of the problem was that veterans fall lower down the list than many federal workers. Federal employees declared surplus, personnel returning from leave of absence and laid-off workers are all ranked higher on the surplus list than medically released vets. That meant departments had to consider them first.

At the time, the government said in order to move veterans up the list, the Public Service Employment Act would have to be amended. 

VAC office closures

During today's announcement, the minister was reminded of the government's controversial decision to close eight Veterans Affairs offices across Canada. 

When asked what progress had been made on training client service agents in areas where offices had been closed, Fantino responded with well-worn talking points.

"What has been portrayed as a lessening of service is really not accurate," he said. 

He repeated that service has actually ramped up to more than 650 Service Canada locations across the country which are available to veterans to get help on routine issues.

"If there's more complicated assistance required by a veteran, and the veteran can't travel to a local office, we will to continue, as we have all along, to meet them at their home or wherever other place of their choosing so as to help them in their needs." 

Earlier this year, Fantino came under fire for his treatment of a group of veterans who came to Ottawa with union officials in January to lobby against those VAC office closures. 

The minister arrived 70 minutes late to a scheduled meeting and then the two parties engaged in a testy exchange. One veteran said the brief meeting was "unbelievable, unacceptable and shameful," in a news conference held afterwards.

The incident created a wave of anger that swept through Parliament Hill and resulted in demands for Fantino's resignation from veterans and opposition leaders.

Fantino later apologized, as well as making clear he would not be tendering his resignation. 

The government proceeded to close eight Veterans Affairs offices as planned on Jan. 31.

Clarifications

  • This story has been updated from an earlier version to clarify that the initiative announced Tuesday allows veterans to access internal hiring processes in the federal public service where they were not able to before. It also clarifies that the 7,600 CAF personnel who leave the military is a yearly average.
    Mar 04, 2014 2:14 PM ET