Nova Scotia

Cape Breton veteran confident of Liberal plan to reopen Veterans Affairs offices

A vocal military veteran in Cape Breton says he has confidence the Liberal government will find an acceptable fix for providing veterans services in Sydney.

Ron Clarke wants a place where veterans and their families are comfortable

Veteran Ron Clarke wants a family-friendly place when the Veterans Affairs office reopens in Sydney. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

A vocal military veteran in Cape Breton says he has confidence the Liberal government will find an acceptable fix for providing veterans services in Sydney.

Ron Clarke led the fight against the closure of the Veterans Affairs office in Sydney when it was closed by the Conservative government in 2014, along with eight others across the country.

Clarke launched an "Anyone But Conservatives" campaign leading into the federal election.

In Tuesday's budget announcement, the Trudeau government pledged to reopen all nine offices by the end of the year.

Clarke says he's been talking with government about what the new office in Sydney might look like.

Family friendly

"What they want is to get a building that will be able to accommodate spouses and the children if need be," said Clarke.

"Where they can come in and sit down and be comfortable, have a coffee or tea or milk or what have you, cookies, while the patient is being seen."

Clarke said there were about 17 people working at the Sydney office prior to the closure in 2014. Afterward, there was just one case worker, working out of the Service Canada building.

"My first experience — I went in and I had to take a number," Clarke recalled.

"When they got to me, I said I wanted to see the Veterans Affairs member and she took me into another room altogether, and I sat in a little cubicle that was about 6 by 6."

Clarke says the set-up was unacceptable, and veterans weren't using the service.

He hopes the new office will have "a nice atmosphere where people can relax, because people like myself with post-traumatic stress disorder, you're not able to relax all that well when you're talking to somebody else."

Clarke says he's confident the federal government will provide an acceptable solution by the end of the year.

The question is where the office will be located.

Final details

Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking said the Veterans Affairs minister has told him the department is closing in on a couple of possible sites.

"We're coming down to the final screening, I guess, with accessibility, so it's easy for veterans to get in and out, and their families," said Eyking.

"Also, to make sure there's the right facilities for the amount of staff we're going to need. So we're getting there."

The Liberals have pledged to hire enough case workers to create a ratio of one case worker for every 25 veterans, and Eyking says the new office will offer increased services.

"For instance, some more help for training, reintroducing veterans in the workforce," he said. "Also helping families that are going through challenging times."

Eyking expects the new office to be open by the fall.

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