03/19/2014 08:38 EDT | Updated 05/19/2014 05:59 EDT

Veterans take affairs into their own hands

Afghanistan veteran Bruce Moncur is taking on a new role to help fellow Canadian soldiers who have returned from combat.

He's one of the founding members of the Afghanistan Veterans Association of Canada.

It's designed to be a replacement for the Veterans Affairs offices after it pulled out of eight cities across the country.

Moncur said his own experiences give him the expertise to help others in similar situations. 

"This association is going to be a way for veterans to get the services they need," he said. "My own pension struggles have been going on for a decade. Someone who is lost or hopeless or doesn't know what to do can come to me and I can lead them in the right direction.

"Essentially, I'm going to be taking on the role of Veterans Affairs," Moncur said.

The idea for the association stemmed from several meetings with Windsor-Tecumseh NDP MP Joe Comartin.

"Mr. Comartin ... was helping me on my personal case and we started talking about the closure of the office, how swamped the legion is," Moncur told CBC Windsor Morning host Tony Doucette. "Some of the people are going to start coming to him now that the VAC office is closed."

Comartin's suggestion

Comartin said veterans seeking help through his office and that of Windsor-West NDP MP Brian Masse were "probably going to be a burden for Mr. Masse’s office, too."

So Comartin suggested he hire Moncur as a staffer at Comartin's Windsor office and run the association out of a Unifor office.

Comartin moved money from his Ottawa office to his Windsor constituency office to pay Moncur on a contract basis. It works out to pay for about two work days a week.

Moncur, who has another job, plans to work out of a local office supplied by Unifor, Canada's largest private sector union.

Conservative Essex MP Jeff Watson is critical. "I'm not sure whether he's being hired as a staffer, which is entirely legitimate on behalf of veterans," he said. "If we're talking about setting up an organization in an MP's office that may be a different question. Obviously, we want to do the most we can to serve veterans."

Moncur said there is nothing political about the association or his payment from Comartin.

"This is my own. This is Bruce acting as Bruce. I’m trying to get the help where it’s needed. I would love to work with all parties. I would love for everyone to put politics aside and help the veterans," Moncur said.

When asked directly if he was being used as a pawn, Moncur said he is not.

"Was I pawn when I went in front of thousands of people at the Maple Leafs game … or got in my nice fancy uniform and shook hands and gave speeches at dinners and galas put on by the Conservative Government?," he asked. "It’s OK for me to work for them but not OK for me to work for other people?"

Moncur referred to recent soldier suicides as an "epidemic" and said he knew many soldiers personally who have returned from combat and need the help.

Watson said he has completed an eight-month study of the role of Veterans Affairs in Windsor.

"I'm convinced there are no service gaps created with the merger into the Service Canada network," he said. "I can say that definitively."

Meeting with Jeff Watson

Watson and Erin O'Toole, the Member of Parliament for Durham, have invited Canadian Armed Forces veterans to meet with them at the Legion Hall in Windsor Thursday morning.

"We hope they can hear a few of our concerns we've had since the closings and maybe opens up more communication between us and the government," said Moncur.

Moncur said the idea of the Afghanistan Veterans Association of Canada came before the closures were announced.

The plan is to have members pay dues and use the money to help pay for services for veterans.

He said the association has applied for non-profit status and it will have a constitution and bylaws drawn up.