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28 Sep 2016

Matter of Interest | Returned and Services League Programs

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 15:27 ): I have spoken before on the need for affirmative action measures such as quotas for the employment of veterans in the Public Service. I now seek to inform the chamber of the programs that the Returned and Services League (RSL) are delivering to the veteran community in South Australia. The RSL was formed in 1916 in order to provide welfare services to those who had served in the First World War. Over the last 100 years, the RSL has developed into the largest ex-service organisation in Australia, with 137 sub-branches in South Australia.

I have previously alerted this chamber that homelessness is a serious problem among the veteran community. In 2009, the national Homeless Veterans Survey found that 3,000 veterans across Australia were experiencing homelessness, and it is likely that this number is higher. RSL LifeCare has developed the Homes for Heroes program to develop a response to this crisis. Homes for Heroes is the only ‘dedicated homeless accommodation for contemporary veterans in Australia’. The program originated in New South Wales but has since been adopted in South Australia, with 16 single rooms available in North Adelaide.

The program not only provides accommodation but also offers a rehabilitation program requiring participants to enrol, volunteer and mentor in education and training. The New South Wales Liberal government announced in June this year that they would commit $1 million to assist in rental subsidies for homeless veterans. I call on the South Australian government to invest in a similar initiative in South Australia and take the lead with New South Wales.

Another program launched by RSL-SA this year is RSL Active, which will assist veterans with the challenges they may face when they transition from military to civilian life. The program currently offers spin classes, cycling, walking groups and kayaking. RSL Active also includes employment programs and training to assist veterans in transitioning to civilian careers. The RSL is hoping to expand this program to include families, with activities such as camping trips. They also want to explore gardening and cooking activities in the future.

I believe RSL Active is a particular program that is needed for contemporary veterans, as it is an outlet the younger generation of veterans are more likely to connect with. As Stewart Cameron, President of RSL Queensland, says about the challenges of encouraging the younger veteran community to join the RSL:

I simply asked this young man what would be required for him to join the RSL, and essentially he said, ‘Take away the bar and take away the pokies machines and build me a new gym and I’m here.’

Retired Major Andrew Johnstone is of a similar view:

Younger people are joining to make changes, they want less formality, more technology and they want social activities away from the pub. They are not interested in war stories over lots of beers.

Johnstone has formed the Far North Coast Younger Veteran Outreach Program through the RSL. The participants in the program meet at a local cafe for coffee every fortnight. It is a credit to the RSL that it is evolving to accommodate all generations of veterans, to ensure no veteran is left behind. Another program, Operation K9, is an RSL-SA assistance dog program that works in conjunction with RSL-SA and the Royal Society for the Blind. Veterans and those currently serving in the ADF who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) relating to their military experience can be assessed for eligibility by Operation K9.

Operation K9 provides an assistance dog to veterans with PTSD to assist with social situations and the effects of PTSD. The assistance dogs are trained to turn on lights, collect medication, wake and comfort the client and open doors. Currently, 10 assistance dogs have graduated through the program, nine have been placed with individuals, and one has been placed with the 16th Air Land Regiment at the Woodside barracks.

Chris Rapson, who served in Afghanistan, was assigned Perry. Rapson says this program has transformed his life:

I had a nervous habit where I’d rub the back of my neck, but since getting Perry, I rarely do that because he’s trained to notice the signs if something isn’t right.

Sadly, the program does not receive any government funding. However, the program has two private companies supporting the initiative: Saab Australia and Daronmont Technologies. It also relies on public donations. The program costs $25,000 for the required training and veterinary bills for each assistance dog, with the client required to cover the cost of the dog food. The programs the RSL and RSL South Australia are implementing are vital to the wellbeing of our veterans and those currently serving, and should be strongly encouraged and further supported by the community and the government alike.

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