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August 08, 2023

RSL LifeCare Veteran Services FY22-23 milestones update

With the release of the Census data, the government and ex-service community have a better understanding than ever before of where our veterans reside. Ongoing hearings as part of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide and research papers, including Leave No Veteran Behind – The long term economic costs of not housing veterans in need, have emphasised the need to do more to support our veterans and their families.

Over the last 12 months, the RSL LifeCare Veteran Services team has continued to expand in response to this need and the growing demand for services, not just to support mental and physical health, but also in areas of social connection and furthering education and employment opportunities. This has been supported by RSL NSW sub-Branches across the state who, together, have contributed $3.1 million to RSL LifeCare Veteran Services to support our service delivery.

The team also now host professional development sessions every two months for a national network of veteran-centric and community based services focused on best practice and evidence-based wellbeing support for veterans and their families. The network now has over 100 members nationally. Below is a snapshot of what we have achieved across our core services.

Between July 2022 and June 2023, RSL LifeCare Veteran Services was able to:

  • Provide $682,516 in financial assistance including $397,000 in disaster assistance.
  • Assist 341 veterans experiencing homelessness.
  • Provide 5,128 nights of accommodation to veterans through our Homes for Heroes program and to veterans and families experiencing housing stress through financial assistance.
  • Help 816 veterans to lodge 4460 DVA claims.
  • Facilitate 220 veterans or partners receiving employment assistance or further education and training opportunities.
  • Lodge 207 new VRB appeals, complete 291 Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mediation discussions and represent 37 full VRB Hearings.
  • Guide 84 veterans through horse handling and riding courses.

Wellbeing support

The Wellbeing Team provide support that is veteran-centric and recovery focused. They offer support to veterans and their families including financial assistance, access to employment and education pathways, and referral to other agencies for help outside of our core service delivery. The work the team does is based around the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Wellbeing Model:

“Now that I am settled in a real place where I have a kitchen, a lounge room and a bedroom for the first time in nearly 10 years I was struck by just how much you all have contributed to my life. I doubt that I will ever be able to repay the kindness and generosity of actions and spirit. You have been the conduit to my small help offered as a Welfare & Funeral Officer. You collectively and individually have enabled me to grow from a very dark place. So I wanted you to accept my gratitude and let you know that you all change lives for the better.” – Wellbeing client

Laptop pilot program

RSL LifeCare Veteran Services, in collaboration with Optus and ASI Solutions, launched a pilot program providing laptops to veterans and their families to access education courses and employment opportunities. The program has gifted 50 laptops to veteran families, RSL NSW sub-Branches and Veteran Wellbeing Centres.

The program provides a laptop and the Microsoft Office suite, basic tools needed to navigate job applications and access online education to upskill and prepare to re-enter the workforce.

DVA claims and appeals

Our professionally trained and accredited claims advisors and advocates continued to support veterans and their families, assisting with claims to DVA that help provide clients with financial security and the ability to access medical support paid for by DVA under a number of different treatment schemes. The Claims & Advocacy team had a 44% increase on the number of claims submitted last financial year and are very proud to have supported 816 individual clients with what can often be a stressful and complicated process.

Our team is now active on seven different ships or bases across New South Wales, conducting claims appointments for current serving members.

“I am very happy with the outcome and would like to sincerely thank you for your efforts in making this happen…It has been a long hard road at times and the use of an expert, such as yourself, makes the process so less stressful – so thank you!” – Advocacy client

Our services are free-of-charge. If you need professional support with lodging or appealing claims to DVA, our team is here to help.

Homelessness and housing support

RSL LifeCare Veteran Services continues to deliver the Rent Choice Veterans (RCV) Program, providing support to veterans in obtaining a rental lease and accessing subsidised rent for up to three years.

The Homes for Heroes team also had full occupancy at our Narrabeen site for several months of the year. The team continue to support veterans with transitional accommodation on-site and help to develop action plans for clients to get back on their feet and into their own living space after their time with us.

One of the highlights from the year is the story of one of our veterans, JC, who has successfully exited the Homes for Heroes program into his own rental accommodation through the RCV program. JC now lives in Parramatta and enjoys the hustle and bustle and multiculturalism. JC said this program “helped him get back on his feet” and stated that this program “helps the individual, shows them the path, but there are things each person needs to do for themselves”. JC is also starting TAFE, studying an Ecosystem and Conservation Management course.

Veteran Wellbeing Centres

Nowra Veteran Wellbeing Centre

In December 2022, we officially opened the doors to the purpose-built Nowra Veteran Wellbeing Centre. The centre provides a welcoming space to the local veteran community and is a one-stop shop for veterans and their families to access our services, as well as other service providers, including Open Arms, Invictus Australia and many others. From December 2022 to June 2023, the Nowra VWC had over 450 visitors and the team hosted or supported 107 different events for over 2600 participants.

Engaging with the local community has been vital to the success of the Nowra VWC, and in January we invited the veteran and Shoalhaven community to participate in the creation of a mural at our centre. Together we transformed the interior space into a beautiful and meaningful piece of art that honours the service of veterans.

In March 2023, the Nowra VWC proudly held a naming Ceremony for its hall. Recognising the significant role of Indigenous veterans in Australia’s military history, and in respect to the local Indigenous community, the name chosen was the Ernest Licey Hall. Ernest Licey was an Indigenous man from the NSW South Coast who enlisted in the ADF under a false name as he was not considered an Australian citizen at the time.

The Nowra VWC has also established key collaborative relationships with local ADF Bases HMAS Creswell, HMAS Albatross and Parachute Training School (PTS). The centre is often present at key base activities and commemorations and ADF members often attend Nowra VWC activities and programs. The two way collaborative approach has been the foundation for establishing the centre amongst those still in service.

Riverina Veteran Wellbeing Centre

In March 2023, the Riverina Veteran Wellbeing Centre celebrated its first birthday. Since its opening, the Riverina VWC has become an important fixture of the Wagga veteran community and this financial year has had over 700 visitors and hosted or supported 44 different events for over 1900 participants.

Following local ADF transition seminars, the Riverina VWC has hosted two separate ex-service organisation drop-in days. These days complement the transition seminars and provide an opportunity for local veteran families and current-serving members to learn more about the services available to them.

The Riverina VWC team also had the honour of carrying the flame during this year’s ANZAC Day March. This was at the request of the local Wagga RSL sub-Branch. The sub-Branch has been a huge supporter of the work our team is doing, and in September 2022 committed to funding one of the roles at the Riverina VWC via the RSL NSW Veteran Support Fund (VSF). We are hugely appreciative of this support and the support of all sub-Branches who contribute to our services through the VSF.

We have also seen significant recognition for the Riverina VWC in the local Defence community. In addition to attending Kapooka for DVA Claims appointments, the team have given presentations educating current serving members on what supports and services are available to them and their families. The centre was also selected as the charity of choice for the RAAF Base Wagga Mental Health Awareness Fun Run and by the Kapooka Army Band as part of their performance at the Civic Theatre 60th Anniversary Gala.

The Riverina VWC has also established the Riverina Wellbeing Working Party which is made up of Key local Defence personnel, local government, community organisations and other Ex-Service Organisations – with the purpose of looking at how we can better assist veterans and their families in the Riverina.

Spur Equine Program

Our Spur program has continued to build on the success of the last few years, taking even more veterans through the program and building a group of passionate volunteers who care deeply for our horses, but also for helping veterans riding to recovery. Six of our volunteers attended and competed in three cattle sorting events under the colours of Spur Ranch.

Over the last financial year, the team delivered 12 horse handling or riding courses and one incredible trek through the Snowy Mountains. In addition to this, they provided a mounted ceremonial lancer troop support on ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day at Narrabeen and Picton.

The Spur team also hosted three contact days for RSL NSW sub-Branches with a total of 70 RSL members attending. And our pony, Apache, made two visits to RSL LifeCare residential aged care facilities and has been undergoing extensive training to deliver support to aged care clients of RSL LifeCare.

As we move into the new financial year, our team continue to work hard every day to assist veterans and their families. Our efforts are proudly supported by funds from RSL NSW and RSL sub-Branches, and the services we provide would not be possible without the generous support of our donors.

If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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