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‘I fought fiercely’: Victoria organization helps veterans find support

National Association of Federal Retirees, whose founder was from Victoria, celebrated its 60th anniversary
Standing in front of her father’s medals and holding up his autobiography that focuses on his time in the army, Elizabeth Macrae recalls how it was a struggle for her parents to get the support they needed after serving (her mother was also a decoder in the army). Macrae is the president of the Victoria - Fred Whitehouse Branch at the National Association of Federal Retirees. (Samantha Duerksen/BlackPress Media)

The National Association of Federal Retirees, which celebrated its 60th anniversary this year, plays an integral role in advocating for veterans.

As the largest national advocacy organization representing active and retired members of the federal public service, its 170,000 members include more than 60,000 veterans and their families. The organization advocates for their financial security, health and well-being.

Elizabeth (Libby) MacRae, president of the Victoria-Fred Whitehouse Branch, saw firsthand the need for federal retiree support as her parents were both members of the army.

“Part of the reason I got into this organization was seeing the things my parents went through and knowing the impacts an organization like this can make,” MacRae said.

“The biggest stressor is the transition to civilian life and that’s where veterans want to maintain their financial security, health issues, maintaining a happy family life. That’s where we want to support them and help them do that – to advocate to MPs that there are services available to help them because so often they’re just thrown out on their own. Another area is disability pension … My father lost his hearing and most of his sight because he was on the big artillery and after he died, my mother no longer got his disability pension. And so I went to the veterans ombudsman and fought fiercely along with my brothers to get my mother to have the disability pension of my father and we were successful.”

MacRae said if she had known about the association at the time, they would have been a helpful resource for her.

Several veterans serve on the association’s board, including veteran Gordon Usipiuk, vice-president of the association’s Victoria-Fred Whitehouse Branch. Usipiuk highlighted a backlog of federal disability claims as one of the latest issues facing veterans, leaving them waiting months, sometimes years, to access benefits.

It’s now been over three years since Veterans Affairs Canada released a strategy to tackle its backlogged benefits applications and some progress has been made.

READ MORE: The Backlog: Thousands of veterans with disabilities are waiting years for support

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“A lot of veterans look back and say it’s just been a boondoggle. Because support wasn’t there for veterans when they needed it, it has forced other non-profit organizations to evolve to help veterans,” Usipiuk said.

“It’s shameful that veterans put their life on the line for their country, they get injured during their deployments, they come back and can’t get the help that they need.”

The National Association of Federal Retirees helps veterans to get that much-needed support. The Victoria branch, the first to open of all the association’s 76 branches, has all its meetings at a Royal Canadian Legion to support veterans. It also makes donations to the Poppy Fund.

On a national level, the association launched the veteran outreach initiative in 2017, which engaged more than 500 veterans across the country and brought their voices forward to the federal government. In 2020, the Women Veterans Research and Engagement Network was established with the association as co-chair. One of the goals is to have women comprise 25 per cent of the military by 2026, up from the current 16 per cent.

The organization also prioritizes tackling ageism, pension plans and advocating for long-term care and home care.

MacRae encouraged veterans to reach out. While the organization doesn’t necessarily advocate for a single person, she said, it can supply them with resources or help get them to their member of parliament.

READ MORE: Saanich veteran says he enjoyed every moment of his 42 years with air force

Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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