Kelowna veterans’ affairs office to re-open in November

Veterans' Affairs Minister says the office will have nine staff and be located in Kelowna's federal building.

Federal Veteran's Affairs Minister Kent Hehr speaks with Cindy Reed

The federal government will re-open the veterans’ affairs office which serves the Central Okanagan on Nov. 1, says veterans’ affairs minister Kent Hehr.

Hehr, in Kelowna to make the announcement Aug. 16, said the office will have a staff of nine, about the same number as was there when the former Conservative government closed the office in 2014 as a cost-cutting measure.

“We have an obligation to provide the services , where and when they are needed, that veteran’s need when they return (from service),” said Hehr.

He said the nine Kelowna workers will be part of 400 to be hired by his department as the Liberal government re-opens the 10 veteran’s affairs offices. One hundred and fifty of them will be case officers. The B.C. offices are in Kelowna, Prince George and Surrey. Others are in Saskatoon, Sask.; Brandon, Man.; Thunder Bay and Windsor in Ont.; Charlottetown, PEI, Sydney, NS and Corner Brook, Nfld.

Hehr said the aim for the Central Okanagan office is case worker to have a maximum of 25 cases each.

According to Cindy Reed, who worked at the local office before it was closed in 2014, the case load back then was between 30 and 40 cases per officer.

She hopes to return to work at the local office when it re-opens.

Hehr said there are currently about 3,500 veterans’ living in the Central Okanagan.

Local MP Stephen Fuhr, whose first stop after being elected last fall was to Hehr in Ottawa to press for a re-opening of the Kelowna veterans’ affairs office, said he was delighted to hear it will reopen in November.

And, unlike his predecessor former Conservative MP Ron Cannan who was at the announcement Tuesday, Fuhr said there is a need for the case workers here, and that need is likely to grow.

Cannan questioned the need to re-open the office, saying the one-person veteran’s affairs desk at the Kelowna federal building with which the former government replaced the office with two years ago, is sufficient.

He said he talked to the one existing case officer who told him she only deals with one to three cases per week.

Cannan said he would rather see the money being invested to re-open the office used to improve programs for veterans.

That brought a swift response from Fuhr., who was standing nearby.

Fuhr, who he defeated Cannan in last fall’s federal election, said veteran’s here were the ones who asked for the office to be re-opened so they could get help in dealing with issues such as benefits.

After both men spoke to Black Press, they got into a brief snippy verbal spat, with Fuhr accusing Cannan of “always sniffing around” local Liberal government announcements.

“You need to get a hobby,” he told Cannan.

“I’ve already have a job,” Cannan retorted before they turned away from each other.

Meanwhile, the announcement was welcomed by local vets on hand.

One, Don Stirling, who is also the service officer for the local Army, Navy, Air Force Association, said there are many issues veterans here need help with, including access to services, assistance with benefits and access to healthcare programs. The re-opened office should make that easier, he said.

The Liberal government vowed  during last year’s election campaign, to re-open the 10 veterans’ affairs offices. Hehr said the task was in his mandate letter from the prime minister when he was appointed veterans’ affairs minister.

The veterans affairs office will re-open in a temporary location in the federal building in November and then move to a permanent space in the same building in May, 2017.