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Veterans Struggle To Enter Workforce

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SOLDIERS CANADA
Canada's soldiers have been returning from Afghanistan but having a tough time finding work. | AP


Advocates for Canadian veterans say a priority list aimed at helping injured soldiers get jobs in the public service isn't fulfilling its mandate.

In 2005, the Public Service Commission made veterans and RCMP workers who are released or discharged for medical reasons eligible to be added to a priority hiring list for jobs for which they have qualifications. About 250 veterans were on it as of Monday.

But aside from the Department of National Defence and a small number at Veterans Affairs, few other departments are hiring from the list, say critics including Sean Bruyea, who feels more should be done to help returning soldiers find work in the public sector.

"The public service and government exists because of the protection and security provided by the military," said Bruyea, a retired air force captain. "Let's recognize that and make specific exceptions for large numbers of military, not just a few."

Stigma to priority list

Bruyea also criticizes the fact veterans can only be on the list for two years.

As well, he said, veterans with disabilities are not alone on the list; it also includes employees who became disabled, took a leave of absence, were laid off or reinstated.

As a result, said Bruyea, being on the list stigmatizes people, making it seem they are undesirable potential employees. Managers see only names and not reasons they are on the list.

"The priority hiring list is viewed by many managers throughout the civil service as containing perhaps disaffected employees who will be 'complainers,'" said Bruyea, who had a public battle with Veterans Affairs and received a settlement from the department after it was found his private files were shared among bureaucrats.

The Ministry of Veterans Affairs responded to such complaints, saying it works with the Public Service Commission on ways to further enhance opportunities for veterans to join the public service.

However, Liberal Senator Percy Downe from Prince Edward Island thinks departments other than National Defence— and in particular Veterans Affairs — need to start hiring more former Canadian Forces members.

"The government of Canada can make much more of an effort than they are currently making to accommodate these people," said Downe.

Public service cuts could worsen situation

Downe worries that cuts to the public service will only make it harder for veterans returning from Afghanistan to find work.

"There's no question as the government shrinks the size of the public service this will be a real problem, and hopefully the government can work with private-sector companies ... there's a fit for most of these people," said Downe.

Bruyea said about 30 per cent of the staff at the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department are veterans themselves. In Canada, however, only about 100 of the 4,500 employees at Veterans Affairs are identified as veterans, and only a handful appear to have been hired from the priority list.

"We have already taken several steps within the Department. For example, all staffing advertisements are open to serving Canadian Forces members. And all job advertisements include Canadian Forces experience as an asset qualification," the ministry said in a statement.