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.