Burnaby council decries treatment of veterans

Recent news reports about contracting out jobs at George Derby Centre and reduced benefits for new veterans are a slap in the face to veterans just before Remembrance Day, says Burnaby council.

George Derby, a veterans care centre, announced to its unionized staff last week that more than 90 jobs—from housekeeping and food services to laundry, clerical and activity staff—will be contracted out. The money saved will go towards hiring more nurses and care aides, according to its executive director, Janice Mitchell.

Coun. Nick Volkow noted that in the last two weeks of Jim Lorimer's life, the Second World War veteran, former Burnaby alderman and NDP MLA lived at George Derby.

"Of all weeks, I can't think of anything more insensitive," he said of the news.

The contracting out of housekeeping services is reminiscent of a similar situation at Burnaby Hospital in recent years. That facility has since become a "national leader in C. difficile cases," Volkow said, referring to the highly-contagious infection, "with absolutely no guarantee veterans and their families are not going to see the same spike Burnaby Hospital did."

The change will also be a shock for many longtime George Derby residents when staff that have been there for upwards of 30 years "disappear all of a sudden."

Volkow also cited news reports of Burnaby veteran Kevin Berry who is part of a class-action lawsuit against the federal government which in 2006 removed longterm pension and support programs for disabled veterans through its New Veterans Charter.

Burnaby residents should be aware "how quietly we, as a country, as a community,  are basically throwing veterans under the bus," he said.

Coun. Sav Dhaliwal added, "I think there's many things wrong with the way our veterans are treated ... How distasteful this is for the country when veterans are taking the federal government to court because they're not paying."

Coun. Colleen Jordan called it "disgusting" that due to a lack of federal government funding, some veterans can't even get decent funerals or burials when they die.

Council passed a motion by Volkow that the mayor write to the Fraser Health Authority to express its concern about the move at George Derby.

"I think we should be on the record with both levels of government, provincial and federal, that we're not happy with this," Volkow said.

Mayor Derek Corrigan said the irony in the George Derby announcement is that not only did it come just before Remembrance Day, but its operators are seeking a rezoning to expand the facility.

Corrigan stressed that he opposes sending people to war in the first place.

"But if we do choose to send our soldiers to some godforsaken place and ask them  to carry our flag then we owe them the obligation when they come home to ensure they're properly cared for. That's part of the deal."

He called it "disappointing" to see returning veterans not properly looked after.

"My position on it, very clearly, create less veterans. Create less veterans and that will make it less expensive. But don't try to make it less expensive on the backs of those who have already served their country. We need to express our concern about that."

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