War veterans up in arms over push to close support network
VETERANS’ groups have questioned if now is the time to dismantle support services as the country faces a potential “tsunami” of post-traumatic stress disorder cases from the Afghanistan war.
Concerns have been raised over the possible closure of a number of Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans’ Access Network (VAN) offices, including Wollongong.
The federal government has staged investigations and consultation into whether the provision of stand-alone VAN offices in a number of regional sites in NSW and Victoria is still the most appropriate way to support veterans.
A founding member of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia and past national vice-president, who fought long and hard for veterans’ rights, Adrian Bishop of Berry said closing the Wollongong service would be a backward step.
“I was one of the guys who fought for regional services such as Wollongong to be established to look after veterans who live in the rural areas,” he said.
“We got services to evolve from the cities and offer support for rural veterans which is so important.”
Mr Bishop spent 14 years in the army, including two tours of Vietnam and Singapore in the Royal Australian Corps of Signals in intelligence production, and then 38 years working for the Defence Department.
“It is not the right time to close them down because we have thousands of veterans, the result of the war in Afghanistan, some who have seen three and four tours of duty that will need support,” he said.
“Based on the Vietnam experience we have to make sure there is a network of support because of the potential tsunami of post-traumatic stress disorder that will come out of that war.
“It may not be evident now but it is inevitable that it will happen.
“Now is not the time to dismantle the Veteran Support Network.”
Nowra RSL Sub-branch secretary Rick Meehan said it would be disastrous for local veterans if the Wollongong office closed.
“It is vital for South Coast veterans, and there would be thousands who use its services from north of Wollongong to well down the Far South Coast,” he said.
“There are six or seven sub-branches as well as a number of other associations like the Naval Association, TPI, National Service, two Vietnam Veterans groups, the Korean War Association along with the Iraq Afghanistan Association within the Shoalhaven alone that would access the Van services,” Mr Meehan said.
“There are thousands of local veterans who have DVA pensions and receive other assistance or simply need advice.
“Many of them, due to their ongoing medical conditions, couldn’t make it to Sydney to head office to get assistance.
“That is where the Wollongong office comes in and veterans have had great support. Through Eva Lopez, the office makes regular visits to the local area to meet with veterans or their group advocates to ensure they are kept well abreast of the issues.
“To close the office in Wollongong would be detrimental to the health of the veterans they are trying to support.”
Mr Meehan said suggestions the service could be taken over by local Centrelink offices were absurd.
“I’m not casting aspersions on the Centrelink staff but you can’t tell me they would know the ins and outs of the DVA,” he said.
“The DVA staff are trained in that area, they talk the talk and walk the walk.
“Centrelink is also such a depressing place at the best of times, let alone for a veteran who in most likelihood is already suffering through their own medical issues, including depression, going to a more depressive scene is not going to help.
“Centrelink should be Centrelink and the services should be kept separate.”
A CANDIDATE for the next state election has launched a scathing attack on Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis for voting to do away with education assistance payments for veterans’ children.
Labor candidate for Kiama Glenn Kolomeitz, a veteran and lawyer who also acts pro bono as an advocate for fellow veterans, slammed Mrs Sudmalis for supporting the removal of the education assistance payments.
“The Member for Gilmore’s priorities are all wrong,” Mr Kolomeitz said.
“Last week she voted to stop the children of veterans receiving small amounts of education assistance, yet supported the farcical return of honours bestowing the archaic titles of Sir, Dame and Lady.”
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The move was blocked in the Senate.
“I’m a veteran – so I know how important these payments are. I’m also supporting a group of local veterans voluntarily working tirelessly to secure entitlements for fellow veterans and their families.”
He said he was disgusted Mrs Sudmalis would vote to deny veterans’ children this small amount of support.
“What does this say about our federal representative when she supports a return to knighthoods with one hand and votes to slash veterans’ families’ entitlements with the other?”
Mrs Sudmalis said the government’s introduction of A Fair Go for Veterans last week offered better coverage for 57,000 military superannuants and their families.
“Mr Kolomeitz should look at the whole package,” she said.
“The briefing we were given said the loss of this funding was completely compensated in the veterans’ new package.
“For the past four years we have been committed to introducing legislation for fair indexation of the DFRB (Defence Forces Retirement Benefit) and the DFRDB (Death Benefit.)
“We promised this in the 2010 election and we continued with this promise in the 2013 election.
“I will never forget the sacrifice and service of our men and women who served their country, and the families who have supported them.
“This legislation sailed through the House of Reps and then was successfully voted on in the Senate. These changes are an investment in fairness for our veterans, putting money back in their pockets.”
Mrs Sudmalis said nearly 700 veterans, their partners, war widows and widowers in Gilmore would benefit from the increase.
Pensions are indexed twice a year in March and September, taking account of changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the Pensioner and Beneficiary Living Cost Index (PBLCI) and Male Total Average Weekly Earnings (MTAWE).