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Published:
August 4, 2012
CBC RADIO - THE HOUSE

Feature on the Priority Hiring program and what many critics
say are its shortcomings in helping veterans get jobs.

LOUISE ELLIOTT (HOST):

- And jobs for Canada's veterans: how a federal program is delivering mixed results.

WILL HERDMAN (CANADIAN FORCES VETERAN):

Demoralizing, embarrassing, you feel crushed, humiliated, and very damaging to the soul to the point where, I'll put it to you this way: the cliff was there, I felt like jumping off it. I actually felt like committing suicide.

LOUISE ELLIOTT (HOST):

The CBC's David McKie has a special report. -

A federal program designed to help veterans of the Canadian Forces find jobs in the public service is not working. That's according to some critics, including veterans who say the Priority Hiring program is not doing what it was intended to do. It was put in place in 2005 as part of a veterans' charter to help veterans who've been medically released from the Forces. Under the program, the names of those vets goes on a list federal departments must consult when they're hiring. But CBC News has learned that not all departments have been contributing. Between the program's creation in October of last year, almost 1000 veterans were hired. But National Defence accounts for 70 percent of those hires. Most departments have only hired fewer than 5 people; some haven't hired a single one, and the numbers are declining. In a climate of public service cuts, many fear the program will quickly become irrelevant and even fewer vets will get hired. The CBC's David McKie looked at the federal government's Priority Hiring program through the eyes of two veterans.

WAYNE FINN (CANADIAN FORCES VETERAN):

My name is Wayne Finn and I'm a veteran of the Canadian Forces, and I served 30 years in the Navy as a bowsan(sp?). A bowsan is a, on a ship, they look after all the high explosives, small arms, boat work. I'm pretty well beat up from the feet right to my shoulders down into my arms. I have arthritis, osteoarthritis just about in every bone in my body, I have some very serious back injuries, so I was released for... what my actual release says, for chronic reappearing condition.

DAVID MCKIE (REPORTER):

Wayne Finn was forced to retire. In 2007, he applied for and was placed on the federal government's Priority Hiring list for medically discharged veterans. But that didn't make his quest for a job much easier.

WAYNE FINN (CANADIAN FORCES VETERAN):

I had one hire manager say to me, I have a problem with Canadian Forces people applying for jobs in the Public Service Commission; I said really? I said what's your problem? They said if you're disabled for the Canadian Forces and you can't work for the Canadian Forces, then why should you be allowed to apply for jobs in the Public Service Commission? And I said, sir, you know that's discrimination by attitude?

DAVID MCKIE (REPORTER):

Finn says throughout the process he felt that he was a victim of discrimination.

WAYNE FINN (CANADIAN FORCES VETERAN):

It was very degrading, devaluating, demoralizing, embarrassing, you feel crushed, humiliated, and very damaging to the soul to the point where, I'll put it to you this way: the cliff was there, I felt like jumping off it. I actually felt like committing suicide.

DAVID MCKIE (REPORTER):

So, he complained to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The two sides reached a settlement, but now his aches and pains have become more severe: he will never work again.

ANNE IRWIN (ANTHROPOLOGIST):

Shortly after wars, you know, there's this great fervour, and we should take care of our soldiers, blah blah blah, and then it doesn't take long for people to forget.

DAVID MCKIE (REPORTER):

Anne Irwin is an anthropologist who studies the military. She says going back to the First World War, Canada has always tried to take care of its vets, and for good reason.

ANNE IRWIN (ANTHROPOLOGIST):

Whether it was an explicit promise or an implicit contract, people join the military knowing that they will be asked to do, to make huge sacrifices, knowing that they will be required to serve in risky environments and required to put their lives on the line without any choice involved, and in exchange they expect to be looked after if the worst happens. You know, you get this initial surge of support, and then the public gets tired of it and a lot of people, a lot of now women as well as men end up falling through the cracks.

WILL HERDMAN (CANADIAN FORCES VETERAN):

My name is Will Herdman, I'm a veteran, I was medically released in 2007 (inaudible)...

DAVID MCKIE (REPORTER):

Will Herdman expected to get some help finding work after a day in Bosnia that changed his life forever.

WILL HERDMAN (CANADIAN FORCES VETERAN):

We hit a crater in the road which had been blown, and when we hit the bottom of it, it compressed by lower spine which really buggered up the lowest five discs really badly. It wasn't till I got back to Calgary at that time that it really started to bother me a lot and they took some x-rays and did an MRI and then it became pretty obvious what the problem was, the lowest five discs had basically turned to popcorn.

DAVID MCKIE (REPORTER):

Five back surgeries later, Herdman wears a special patch on his shoulder to help dull the pain long enough for him to function. The 20-year veteran was medically discharged from the military in 2007, and he's one of the lucky ones. Through the Priority Hiring program, he got a job at National Defence's Counter Terrorism Centre at Suffield, Alberta. He works with a team that trains firemen, police officers, and soldiers from Canada and around the world to respond to biological and chemical attacks. Herdman says it was like he'd been given a second chance.

WILL HERDMAN (CANADIAN FORCES VETERAN):

When you're a soldier and you can't do your job because you're injured or whatever, your self-worth goes down. By going back in as a civilian working in this organization, that gave me my self-worth right back.

DAVID MCKIE (REPORTER):

But Herdman's story with the Priority Hiring program doesn't have a happy ending. Budget cuts have claimed Herdman's program; he's out of a job in the fall.

WILL HERDMAN (CANADIAN FORCES VETERAN):

Well, when you suddenly realize that what you love doing is gone and it just busts you up emotionally, you're just, you know, it's like a, I don't know, it's almost like a death in the family you might say, where you're in that denial and shock phase where it's like you don't know which way to go at the moment and you have to recollect your thoughts and get back on being focused and move forward, and I was busted up, you know; it was hard for me to accept that it was gone.

DAVID MCKIE (REPORTER):

Herdman feels federal cuts will make it harder for many medically discharged vets to find work. Hélène Laurendeau of the Public Service Commission says it's too soon to worry.

HÉLENE LAURENDEAU (PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION):

It has been a successful program. There is a high level of support for it and for the time being, we don't have any reason to actually doubt of its success.

DAVID MCKIE (REPORTER):

But Percy Downe disagrees.

PERCY DOWNE (LIBERAL SENATOR):

It is a program that's in trouble, but it's...

DAVID MCKIE (REPORTER):

The Liberal Senator has been concerned about this program for years now, and in 2010, he actually wrote the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers asking them to hire more vets. He says the government needs to lead by example when it comes to hiring veterans and should strengthen the Public Service Employment Act to force more departments to hire vets.

PERCY DOWNE (LIBERAL SENATOR):

They need to go to work every day to support themselves and their families, and by not having a job, by sitting home with a disability, it's unhealthy, and the disability is a result of what the government asked them to do. They were in service to the country.

DAVID MCKIE (REPORTER):

Steven Blaney is Canada's Minister of Veterans Affairs. He says he's working with the Public Service Commission for ways to improve the program and encourage more departments to hire more vets.

STEVEN BLANEY (MINISTER OF VETERANS AFFAIRS):

We will look at ways to expend the program and expend the accessibility of public service positions for veterans within the coming years, that's an objective, and the way we will do it will be defined in conjunction with the Public Service Commission, the departments, and my colleagues, ministers as well.

DAVID MCKIE (REPORTER):

But you have no more specific details at this moment?

STEVEN BLANEY (MINISTER OF VETERANS AFFAIRS):

At this point in time, I will speak to what I've just laid out of criteria we are willing to make to enhance the opportunities for our veterans to join the public service.

DAVID MCKIE (REPORTER):

For 'The House', I'm David McKie in Ottawa.


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