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Vets uneasy over rumoured transfer of Ste. Anne's Hospital

September, 2009

There is apprehension among local war veterans and Royal Canadian Legion members following news the federal government has begun discussions on transferring responsibility for Ste. Anne’s Veterans Hospital to the Quebec government’s control.

Located on a 21-hectare site in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Ste. Anne’s was one of nine veterans’ hospitals built in Canada for casualties of the First World War.

Although it is the country’s last veterans’ hospital, the number of patients is expected to drop in the coming years. With 446 private rooms, there are currently about 415 residents at the hospital with an average age of 86, compared with 725 averaging 76 years in 1992.

“There’s been talk of this for many years,” said Stuart Vallières, president of the NDG branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. According to Vallières, speculation about Ste. Anne’s being turned over to Quebec has gone on since Queen Mary Veterans Hospital was transferred decades ago to the province.

“It’s still not a done deal. I think it’s very talked about and worked on. My personal opinion is that they seem to be delaying it as long as they can. The longer they delay it, the less impact it has on war veterans, particularly those now from the Second World War.”

“I’m sure that any veteran you talk to would not be looking forward to seeing that happen,” he added. “In this province – and this is a very personal opinion – we’ve had more governments here talking about separating than we’ve had being part and remaining part of Canada.

Second World War veteran Bob Thompson and the Royal Canadian Legion crest

“The veterans have the respect of the Canadian government, and as a result of our efforts over the years to express the needs of veterans, the desires of veterans, we’ve been able to form a very good association and a working agreement between the government and ourselves.

“And I think most veterans would have to admit that as far as treatment – and I’m talking now about seriously disabled vets – they’ve been very fairly treated by the government and we have no complaints at all and this association continues at Ste. Anne de Bellevue. The veterans there receive excellent treatment.”

Asked whether he felt veterans’ specific medical needs might not be fully recognized if their care were no longer provided by Veterans Affairs Canada, Vallières responded, “That’s right. That would be my very personal opinion.”

At the Royal Canadian Legion’s Lachine branch, similar apprehensions about a possible transfer were expressed.

“It should stay strictly as a veterans’ hospital,” said Bob Thompson, who served in Canada’s navy during the Second World War. “If the province were to take it over, that would mean anyone would be able to enter that hospital, and veterans might even have a hard time getting in with other people moving in and taking priority.

“The veterans would lose a lot of their power in there,” he said.

“They wouldn’t have preference, I believe. The way it is now, you have a good chance of getting in, but should they take over, I think it would be much harder.”

Ste. Anne’s Veterans Hospital would be likely to end up as a senior citizens home, another branch member suggested.

“Anyone would be able to go there,” she said. Another vet saw the potential for linguistic problems developing if English-speaking vets, who have been served until now by the officially bilingual federal Veterans Affairs, were to suddenly fall under the aegis of Quebec, which prioritizes use of the French language through Bill 101.

According to Bonnie Sandler, a Montreal social worker with extensive experience assisting the elderly, other changes of concern to veterans and their families are also happening now. Sandler regularly places seniors in retirement residences and works with many veterans.

Until recently, she was able to place clients in private residences. They would pay a portion of the total fee and Veterans Affairs would pay the larger amount.

“That was the story for all veterans until recently,” she said.

“My last case involved a visit to a few nursing homes. Then Veterans Affairs came out saying they are no longer taking up the slack of private placements. This man is sitting in one of the rehab centres right now. He should have been moved already. They’re saying he’s got to go into the public system.”



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