Why I Walked Away From The RSL

I left the Australian Army 16 months ago, in that short period I have become a very vocal contributor and critic of veteran’s affairs in this country.  In particular I have written about and contributed to issues in regards to the Government and Australian Defence Force’s handling of veteran support services for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is a fact that many people within the Federal Cabinet and ADF hierarchy have the perception that the current system is doing enough to help wounded servicemen and servicewomen.  This is not true however; and as more high profile Soldiers such as MAJGEN John Cantwell break down the stigma attached to PTSD; the support systems in place are getting better.

Traditionally the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) has been the main avenue for wounded servicemen and women past and present to pursue support and rehabilitation services.  The various sub-branches around Australia have men and women, mostly ex-serving members, acting as advocates that help the people in need communicate with the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) and Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Services (VVCS) in order to facilitate the required support services.
The RSL as a whole does a good job at this; however the various sub-branches sometimes aren’t as supportive as they should and to be honest are funded to be.

The RSL has a long history.  Founded after WWI as a support service for returned servicemen; it continued to flourish in the peacetime years and throughout and post WWII.  Without giving an in-depth history lesson; the years that followed included the Korean War, threat of communist invasion, threat of nuclear war and of course the Vietnam War.

I am a 3rd Generation Soldier.  My Grandfather served in WWII across Africa and Europe, my Father served more than 40 years in the Australian Army and served in Vietnam; and I have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  To say my families’ recent history is steeped deep within that of the Australian Defence Force is not too far removed.  Both my Grandfather and Father have been awarded the Order of Australia Medal for their services to veteran’s advocacy and service to the Australian Army respectively.

My Grandfather was the President of his RSL sub-branch in excess of 40 years and my Father has been a staunch advocate within Legacy and his RSL sub-branch for many decades.

In the final years of my Grandfather’s life he stepped down as President of his RSL Sub-Branch; but remained a sitting board member and veteran’s advocate.  Throughout the years he had amassed a very comprehensive list of contacts including high ranking ADF officers and politicians; both state and federal.  It was a testament to his character and reputation when the Lord Mayor of Wollongong officiated at his funeral and hundreds from the veteran’s and RSL community attended.  He was given a proper serviceman’s farewell at which I delivered a short, but heartfelt eulogy and placed a poppy on his flag draped casket, next to his WWII medals.

I have been accused of not knowing enough about the subject of veteran’s affairs before and to be blunt, the people that have made these accusations are full of shit.  I have admired the two Patriarchs of my family for their dedication to veteran’s affairs since I was a young boy and have also learnt a lot from them.  Now in my own way I have taken up the torch in order to fight for today’s young veterans.

While my Father is an active member of his local sub-branch; I doubt he will ever forget the way the returned servicemen of the Vietnam War were treated by the RSL.  The Vietnam War divided Australia.  People not only protested against Australia’s involvement in Vietnam they also shunned and persecuted those that wore the uniform in service for their nation.  My Father was spat on during his “welcome home” parade, pigs blood was splashed upon other Soldiers as they marched through Sydney.  And then the RSL told them “Vietnam wasn’t a real war”.

Imagine serving your country proudly in a foreign land; facing death on a regular basis and then being shunned by the very organisation set up and funded by the Federal Government to provide you support services.  I’m not referring to the Veterans of Vietnam; I am referring to today; and the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Young men and women fight for their country in the Middle East and are not afforded the respect that comes with serving your nation.  In this regard certain sub-branches within the RSL have failed.

I have experienced this first hand; however I will not tarnish the entire RSL by the actions of the few.  That is not fair and hopefully in the following years the RSL will realise their folly.  If they choose not to openly embrace the modern serviceman and servicewoman the RSL will sadly disappear into the annuls of Australian Defence History like the thousands of men and women who have died wearing the uniform.

My decision not to join the RSL was made very easy when I was snubbed by the very sub-branch my late Grandfather was the stalwart of.  As a 3rd generation serviceman and the Grandson of the man that dedicated more than 40 years of his life as Sub-Branch President it was insulting.

They openly criticised the need to include “young blokes with tatts” into their ranks.  At first I was angry, but this soon faded as I realised there were alternate avenues for young veterans like myself to access the various support services they are entitled to.

For this reason I will support other advocacy and support services such as Soldier On and Mates 4 Mates as a lot of other Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in need will also choose to do.

Back On The Bike (Possibly Off It Again)

It’s been three very long weeks since I had my crash at Mt Stromlo during Round 10 of the CORC XC 12/13 Series.  It was my first venture into short course racing after entering and successfully completing several endurance mountain bike races.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I went into the XC race full of confidence… Maybe too much confidence.   I’m not saying it’s the reason I had my off or is responsible for the extent of my injury; the truth is I entered the race as I wanted/needed a challenge and it just so happened I felt fully dialled in during the ride.   But then, seconds from the finish line I attempted a jump, didn’t stick the landing and have been going through the last few weeks in considerable pain.

I’ve never been one to sit back and wait for injuries to heal and for rehab to work.  The truth is I’ve torn muscles, broken bones and had bouts of acute illness and gone straight back to work or back into sport.  It’s a stupid thing to do and as I get older and my susceptibility for injury increases; it takes longer for me to heal.

So now on the eve of Round 1 of the new CORC XC 2013 Series I face a conundrum:
Do I race or do I sit this one out?

There is not straightforward and simple answer; only more questions…
Do I want to race? … Yes
Should I race? … No
Am I fit enough? … Maybe
Has my chest & shoulder healed enough? … No
Is it safe for me to ride? … Maybe

I went for a ride yesterday afternoon on the same track as tomorrow’s race.  I only did one lap and I struggled a little bit.  It takes a fair few kilometres for me to warm up and by the time I had reached the 7km mark I was finally warm.  My chest and shoulder held up well, but I didn’t go as fast as I normally do and will need to go during the race.

However I woke up this morning quite tender and tonight I’m in considerable pain in my shoulder where the tear originates.  As with all muscle injuries you don’t feel the full extent until you cool down; and well I’m feeling it right now.

I’ve prepped Zooey and set my alarm for tomorrow morning with the intention of riding out to Mt Stromlo as part of my warm up; although a 30km commute seems a little excessive for a 20km race.

I guess I’ll just wait and see and if I decide it’s best not race tomorrow I’ll go out to Mt Stromlo and cheer on the rest of The Berm riders and help out my local MTB club.