It is hoped an announcement of the location of a $5 million Veterans' Wellbeing Centre in Nowra will be made by mid-year.
Nowra was one of six centres announced by the federal government at the last election with $30 million to be invested into a network Veterans' Wellbeing Centres in Darwin, Townsville, Perth, Adelaide and Wodonga.
NSW RSL is leading the local development, with former Royal Australian Navy Commodore, Lee Cordner AM, who is also president of the Central Southern RSL District Council, overseeing the working party to establish the Nowra centre.
"We hope by mid-year to be in a position to announce a location and start spending the $5 million on the site and facility, getting staff and systems set up etc to deliver the service," he said.
But he added the bushfires over Christmas and now COVID-19 were having an impact on planning.
With 49 years of naval experience, 33 years full time and 16 years as a reservist along with other roles, the former Commodore who has been the commanding officer of various ships over the years including HMAS Adelaide and Sydney, is excited by the project.
"This project, under the auspices of the Department of Veterans' Affairs is aimed to provide a holistic approach to look at veterans and their family's wellbeing," he said.
"It's about looking after the whole person and providing the services needed.
"There is already a lot of service providers out there helping with employment, health, housing, educational skills and those sorts of services. But not all vets are connected and individually for veterans, it can be really hard to navigate the system
"Part of the idea of the centre is for it to be a one-stop-shop whose absolute focus is on vets and their families, young and old.
"How best to service them, help understand what services they need and help navigate and connect them with those various service providers.
"And also for those members of the army, navy and air force who are transitioning out of the forces - their needs are different."
There is already a network of services provided from commonwealth, state and local governments, the private sector along with ex-service organisations like RSL Sub-branches, Naval Association and Fleet Air Arm Association.
"We want to connect all those networks together to be able to work with individual vets and his or her family to assess what their needs are and to facilitate the connection to services they need depending on where they are on their respective journey," he said.
"But also to monitor how that is progressing and reconnect if needed down the track.
"We want to bring that all together in one physical centre."
CDRE Cordner said the organising committee was going through site selection and facility selection for the "greater Nowra area".
"The centre will be the only of its type in the broader district with the aim to have a physical centre and a lot of outreach services and strategies for the Shoalhaven, Illawarra and Southern Highlands," he said.
"It's a big area. This sort of centre doesn't even exist at the moment - some services will work out of the centre, others from their own premises, as they do now.
"But there will also be a lot of outreach and online services, as well as visits to remote towns and villages within the communities of the Shoalhaven, Illawarra and Southern Highlands.
"It's only early days and we have a running group that is working hard to bring it all together under the broad umbrella of RSL NSW."
He said there is a range of options for the centre's establishment - including leasing existing facilities, or refurbishing existing facilities or even establishing a purpose-built facility on a greenfields site.
"There is a large defence force community already in Nowra - both current serving personnel and retired veterans, so it makes sense to establish such a facility here," he said.
"It's a great opportunity but it can also cater for veterans in the Illawarra and Southern Highlands."
He said future funding would come from a variety of sources.
"We'll certainly look to the broader RSL and ex-service organisations and community support," he said.
"We hope the RSL Sub-branches will also be contributing.
"We've also had great support from HMAS Albatross and Defence in general, who understand what the Department of Veterans' Affairs program aims to do."
As president of the Central Southern RSL District Council, the commodore oversees 30 RSL sub-branches from Coledale in the north to Milton-Ulladulla in the south and west to Queanbeyan, Yass, Braidwood and Crookwell.
"It's a big area, physically large, covering 10 local government areas," he said.
"The $5 million funding has a sunset clause, with the current grants available up until the 2021-22 financial year.
"We hope to have the centre up and running by the beginning of 2022.
"We might even start the operation in a low key local facility until we wait for a purpose-built or refurbished site to be set up."