In an email to CBC News, Veterans Affairs Canada said the department plans to maintain a workforce of more than 1,000 people in Prince Edward Island.
"With close to 250 Charlottetown employees eligible to retire in the next three years alone, we are confident that the bulk of the 143 reductions announced today can be managed through good human resource management," said Janice Summerby, a spokeswoman with Veterans Affairs Canada.
Debi Buell, the national vice-president of the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees, said human resources staff began meeting with employees at noon on Thursday.
"They're shocked. A lot of people didn't realize this was coming," she told CBC News.
Staff who received workforce adjustment letters on Thursday now have three months to decide whether they're going to leave or move into another position vacated by someone else retiring.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada said more than 200 workers across the country were given notices on Thursday:
- Charlottetown: 143.
- Kirkland Lake, Ontario: 28.
- Winnipeg, 14.
- Dartmouth, 8.
- Vancouver, 7.
- Ottawa, 2.
- Halifax, 1.
"With every section in this department working overtime, how do you make common sense of having the cuts?" said Jody LaPierre, the vice-president of the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees Local 90001.
"As devastating as it is for Charlottetown and the Island and Islanders in general and the economy, it's the services to veterans that are suffering here."
Clifford Lee, the mayor of Charlottetown, said he's been assured by the Minister of Veterans Affairs the cuts will be dealt with through early retirement.
"The good news is that nobody who wants to work at DVA will be going home. The bad news is, quite frankly, that those 143 positions will not be filled and that has an impact on the city's economy, it has an impact on future generations," Lee said Thursday.
"It's a major economic hit to the city of Charlottetown's economy. Everyone recognizes that."
But union leaders said they don't believe the jobs losses will be managed through retirement.
"A lot of people can't afford to retire," said Buell.
"They have a job, maybe they have new mortgages and grandchildren, whatever. People just can't afford it."
LaPierre said people are now working later in life.
"The retirement age is creeping up there and that's when they're trying to say they can look through it all through attrition," he said.
"In a perfect world, maybe. But it's not happening."