Sydney VAO Re-Opening: A Victory for Vets

Never having served in the military, I can only image what this victory must feel like.

In 2014, Cape Breton vets, like veterans across Canada, lost a valued service and a much- needed lifeline, their Veterans Affairs Office (VAO). Faced with that devastating news, veterans responded to the challenge with the defiance and the fortitude that has seen them through their darkest days.




The 2013 Rally of Concern, organized to protest the closure, inspired me to create a photo/essay project and I want to share some images from both the rally and the project itself. It was an honor for me to help pass on the stories of a number of our local service personnel. This battle was hard fought, as Canadian citizens and veterans joined forces to reverse the closure. And you know what? You won! The Sydney VAO is about to reopen.

The photos and your quotes below salute what you’ve accomplished, honor the sacrifice of others, remind us of what’s been lost and show, once again, why this was a battle that needed to be won.


“…I try to use whatever I know about photography to be of service to the people I’m photographing. I’m trying not to create photographs that viewers will look at and think: ‘What a good photographer he is,’ or ‘Look what an interesting composition he can make.’ I want the first impact, and by far the most powerful impact, to be about an emotional, intellectual and moral reaction to what is happening to these people. I want my presence to be transparent.” – James Nachtwey


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I appreciate you wanting to talk about DVA, and I’d like to talk about DVA…’cause the ladies at DVA, I refer to them as my angels. I have nothing but respect for them…they treated me with nothing but respect and regard, and they’ve done everything they could to help me. So this office closure really bothered me because these people were our friends…From my experience, I have nothing but good things to say about them.

Help is Available

I was hurting really bad, my back was continuously bothering me and I said, ‘Okay, that’s enough.’ So I made the phone call and they flooded me with paperwork. They kept saying, ‘This kind of help is available,’ and I couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it, couldn’t understand it. If you know properly how to ask or exactly what to look for then it’s like, ‘Okay, he knows what he’s talking about so good enough, he can have this.’ That is what I counted on the office here for. They really helped me weed through and spoke English, you know? When you have someone sitting in front of you for an evaluation they know what you need, they can determine what you need.

Medak Pocket

…I left Bosnia and had nothing. I was done, done with construction, I couldn’t work no more. I was in bad shape. I went to the DVA office, walked in there and told them my story…It was, ‘Poor J,’ they looked at me like I was crazy, like they had never heard of Bosnia, like they never heard of Medak Pocket* until I went in that day.

[The counselor] called Ottawa—I was in pretty bad shape by then, so he called Ottawa—to say, ‘I got this guy in my office, he was overseas and I never heard nothing about Croatia or Bosnia or Medak Pocket and artillery.’ So whoever he got a hold of said, ‘Yeah, hold on to that guy…they had a hard time.’

So, that’s how I started, that was my first session with DVA. They said they’d help. They were comforting right off the bat. I felt comfortable with the people there, ’cause I talked to a few people that night and they were all very nice to me. I walked out of there and came home and we just started the process from there and every visit to the DVA office was almost walking into your own house, they were very helpful.”


…The Veterans Affairs Office was perfect. They took something out of this community, which they should never have done because if you didn’t know what to do they knew what to do. They helped right off the bat… You always got in right quick or if you called you would say what you had to say and they would get back to you in a day or so.


We don’t have a Veterans Affairs office here in Sydney for the veterans that are getting out today with injuries both physical and mental. They need an office to go to, they need somebody to go to. In my case, I can relate to them today [because of] where I was a long time ago when I got out—scared of the nightmares and the PTSD. I myself have nobody to go and ask a question…I mean, my caseworker has been transferred to Halifax, so any correspondence I need to do and look for is over a telephone call.

Face to Face

We as veterans need case managers that we can talk to, that we can see face to face. Everything is a blur going over the telephone, pushing different buttons…’Want to speak to somebody? Push three if you have a number.’ It’s confusing and it’s difficult.

The Old Office

I have to travel to Sydney to look after things that I need, but it’s not the same as the old office, with the girls and the people that ran that office. They were so good and you didn’t have to wait for nothing, they took you into the room and talk to you privately. They done everything, wrote it all down and try to help us out as best they could. So myself, I can’t drive now, and it’s pretty hard for me to get to Halifax, I couldn’t drive to Halifax and back home again now if I wanted to. I just go over to Sydney to see them at the Service Canada office. I tell him what’s going on and he does the rest.