December 14, 2020

An Open Letter to all UVAE Members

I am writing to provide you with information about our work at the National level and our advocacy efforts on behalf of UVAE members at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. UVAE was invited to appear before this Committee which is studying the backlog in disability benefit applications. We appeared twice. First in March 2020 and again in November 2020. On both occasions I highlighted the challenges facing UVAE members from coast to coast to coast including the stress on many staff including the excessive case loads for Case Managers and the need for more support for both Veterans and UVAE members on Mental Health issues.

In addition, we raised many of the issues and concerns that you reported to us in the two membership surveys this year and we called for a permanent solution to the current backlog situation. We also called on the federal government to hire the necessary full-time staff to deal with the on-going situations at the department. I am attaching the briefs from those presentations.

At each of these hearings we answered questions about our presentation and offered additional information to the members of the Committee. One of those members we answered questions to was MP Sean Casey.

Since our last appearance, it has come to my attention that Sean Casey MP has been making accusations about me and the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees, specifically that I or our Union is somehow not supportive of the members or the work that is being done by them at VAC Headquarters. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me state unequivocally that I and our Union are proud of the work you do every day on behalf of Veterans and their families and we support you 100%. Just as we do every other UVAE member in every location across the country from coast to coast to coast.

He also claims that I am trying to take positions or jobs away from UVAE members in Charlottetown. That is categorically untrue and is a gross mischaracterization of my testimony in front of a Parliamentary Committee.

In March 2020 when I appeared on UVAE’s behalf at the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs  MP Casey asked me a question about staffing levels in Charlottetown. When I answered, I misspoke, and it was thought that I was advocating the elimination of positions at the head office. In a hearing like that, there is a great deal of pressure and little time to respond to a myriad of questions from MP’s of all parties. I am sorry for any misunderstanding, and I would like to clarify my thoughts on that matter.

What I was trying to say is that VAC needed to assign more staff to dealing with the backlog and that these new staff could be based in other regions to meet the staffing and workload needs. VAC needs to fill the vacant positions to increase the number of staff doing the work and to decrease the excessive caseloads. My only reference to Charlottetown was that it had a limited population of bilingual people who also hold the medical qualifications sufficient to become disability pension adjudicators because of the size of the market to recruit from and the competition from other employers. It is not only the private sector, who pay higher wages with better benefits, but also from the Provincial Health Care system. As noted recently by the PEI Minister of Health, VAC is drawing qualified nurses from the provincial system, which is causing a health care crisis on PEI. (CBC News, December 1, 2020)

I have tried to clarify my position to MP Casey, but he remains determined to think that I am somehow a threat to jobs in Charlottetown. That is simply not true. When I appeared at the Committee again in November to represent UVAE members MP Casey again raised this issue. In fact, he used his whole 5 or 6 minutes to challenge my response. Here is what I said to MP Casey at this hearing of the Committee.

“First of all, I want to acknowledge that there are many bilingual people in Charlottetown and on Prince Edward Island. It was never my intention to say otherwise nor did I or do I wish to denigrate anyone from Charlottetown, especially the staff of Veterans Affairs’ Canada and the members of Union of Veteran Affairs’ Employees who work there.

What I did refer to the last time I was before the Committee was the fact that there are challenges in recruiting bilingual professionals to complex positions within Veterans Affairs’ Canada. The Department would seem to agree with me since according to testimony from one of my union colleagues at the Committee last week, they are transferring bilingual employees into Charlottetown to meet existing needs.

Mister Casey. I hope we can move past this issue and re-focus on why we are here today. Canadian Veterans and their families are suffering, and we need to work together in order to bring them the best possible services and programs. We ask you to work cooperatively with the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees to make that a reality.”

Let me reiterate that I continue to value and support the contributions of UVAE members at Head Office and in every other office across the country. You do a phenomenal job under very difficult circumstances and I will continue to fight on your behalf. The high workloads are a major issue in every office, impacting every single UVAE member. The faster VAC can hire and train qualified candidates, the better it is for everyone, regardless of where they work. The high workloads, the number of vacant positions, and difficulties VAC has in running staffing processes continues to create a mental health crisis in VAC that the UVAE National Executive Officers holds as a top priority in addressing. We will continue to fight for more resources, balanced workloads and a safe work environment across Canada for you, our UVAE Member to continue to support all of our Veterans and their families from Coast to Coast to Coast. If you would like any further information or clarification, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will gladly respond.

In Solidarity,

Virginia Vaillancourt,
National President, UVAE