Veterans Affairs 'trying to do better' for women, LGBTQ vets with creation of new department
New office opened in Charlottetown this month
A new department at Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown has been created to better support women and LGBTQ2 veterans.
The Office of Women and LGBTQ2 Veterans opened last week, largely in response to comments and discussion that came from the first ever Women's Veterans Forum — held in Charlottetown last year.
Christina Hutchins, senior director for the new office, said the focus of the department will be twofold: to continue to identify the needs of veterans who are women or part of the LGBTQ2 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and two-spirit) community, and work on ways to address them.
"Are we reaching all the veterans that we need to reach, in terms of offering the services and benefits that we have?" Hutchins said.
"And are there any potential gaps in the services and benefits that we're offering, in terms of being fair and equitable to minority groups like women and LGBTQ2 veterans."
Hutchins served for 21 years in the Canadian Forces and grew up in a military family.
She said she's been shocked and disappointed at the amount of sexual misconduct that's been reported to have occurred over the years, and the impact that has had on women, as well as LGBTQ veterans.
What we're trying to do is do better at Veterans Affairs.— Minister of Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay
She said her goal is to help better understand the needs of minority veteran groups and try to help give them a voice.
"It's about having to rebuild the confidence and trust of some of these individuals that feel that they've been unfairly treated," Hutchins said.
"So I'm very appreciative of the opportunity because I never thought that I would end my public service career doing a job like this — that's long overdue in my personal opinion."
She's hopeful that the new office will become a place for people to share their stories in a safe and welcoming environment, which will help VAC identify root causes of the problems and better understand how to help and support all veterans.
Lawrence MacAulay, minister of veterans affairs, said six people are currently assigned to the office, but that number may grow over time.
"What we're trying to do is do better at Veterans Affairs," MacAulay said.
"Veterans Affairs was a male-dominated thing over the last hundred years. All the sectors of society worked to protect you and I, and it's our job to make sure that we give them the proper service."
According to Veterans Affairs, women account for 14 per cent of the estimated 670,000 veterans in Canada.
In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a formal apology to LGBTQ2 federal public servants, including those in the Canadian Armed Forces, who had faced discrimination as a result of federal legislation, policies or practices.