Nfld. & Labrador

Back in business: Veterans Affairs office closed by Harper government reopens in Corner Brook

The Veterans Affairs office in Corner Brook officially reopened Tuesday morning, much to the relief of west coast veterans.
Veterans from the west coast gathered Tuesday morning to welcome the reopening of the Corner Brook office. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

The Veterans Affairs office in Corner Brook officially reopened Tuesday morning, the first of nine such offices across Canada that were closed during the former Conservative government's tenure.

"We're here today to start our new relationship with veterans, open up that office, have those front-line services, so veterans and their families can get what they need when they need it," Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr told CBC Radio's Corner Brook Morning Show.

Hehr, Long Range Mountains MP Gudie Hutchings, and many veterans were on hand to reopen the office, in the Joseph R. Smallwood building on Regent Square, at 9 a.m.

"I felt relieved, I really did," said veteran Ben Rowsell, who came out to the ceremony.

"It made me start thinking, why was it closed in the beginning? It was a shot in the face to the veterans, no place to go to seek help."

The office closed in January 2014, one of a series of Veterans Affairs closures ordered by the former Conservative government. The federal Liberals said they would reverse some of the closures after winning last fall's election. 

Despite outcry from local veterans like Rowsell, the closures, Hehr said, created problems throughout the system.

Minister of Veterans Affairs Kent Hehr said the closure of front-line offices created a backlog of services. (CBC)

"What we were seeing was a backlog in services, not only in getting help for issues resolved, but basic things like cheques being cut," said Hehr.

"Having that front-line staff able to do the work is very, very important."

'It's a different world'

Veteran Paul Davis said it's not only the staff that make a difference — the office allows for much-needed socializing among the people waiting for their appointments.

"Sometimes it helps the veterans, when you talk about each other's problems. And in this office, it seems like its safe to do it... because it seems like the only people we can talk to is our own. It's a different world," he said.

Hehr said 800 front-line staffers were let go at offices across Canada, and to date, 290 have been hired back, with more planned.

"They will do that good work that veterans need to build their lives when they come home from serving this nation, and they need assistance with some of the complex issues that arrive from military service," he said.

The Veterans Affairs office in Corner Brook is once again located in the Joseph R. Smallwood building. (CBC)

The reopening of the Corner Brook office marks the beginning of the fulfillment of a Liberal election promise to increase services to veterans.

Hehr said more offices will be reopening "on as quick a timeline as we can," with plans to have all of them up and running by May 2017.

 The other locations are Charlottetown, Sydney, Windsor, Thunder Bay, Brandon, Saskatoon, Kelowna and Prince George.

With files from The Corner Brook Morning Show and Colleen Connors