Ahead of the hearings of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, which will be held in Canberra in April, Veterans’ Support Centre president Ward Gainey said help and support are available to any veterans living in Canberra and the surrounding region.
The Veterans Support Centre in Belconnen provides a range of services to veterans. A registered charity/not for profit organisation with around 650 members from Canberra and the surrounding region, as well as the south coast, the Centre has been helping veterans and their families in the ACT since 1994.
The Royal Commission is encouraging current and former Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel to share their experiences with suicidal thoughts and mental health concerns.
“Suicide is still impacting so many of our vets and devastating their families,” Mr Gainey said.
“We support all our veterans who may have PTSD or are having suicidal thoughts and connect them with counselling services.
“And we’re here if they just want to talk to someone.
“Most people won’t go and tell you they have a mental problem until it’s too late.”
The Centre’s Advocates can also support former Defence personnel and their families and police and emergency services of all conflicts, with access to welfare support services and introduction to other supporting organisations.
From walking groups to music lessons and cooking workshops, the Centre is also a place where veterans can get together and form life-long friendships.
Mr Gainey says there are no ranks at the support centre, just mates having a barbie, sharing a laugh and being there for each other.
The weekly Tuesday barbecues, held from midday, are ideal for veterans in the Canberra region to meet like-minded people and find out what the service can offer them.
“It’s really relaxed and Vets can come and just have a chat with like-minded people,” Mr Gainey said.
“Particularly after the COVID lockdowns, it’s crucial for people to get out of the house.
“There are many Vets doing very well and some that aren’t, so we are here for all Veterans.”
The Centre’s Wellbeing Officer Julie Broomby explained that as well as accessing wellness services, advocates are trained to help veterans with Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) claims and ensure their communication with the DVA runs smoothly.
She said that a high percentage of people who prepare and lodge their own initial DVA claims are unsuccessful.
“Often claims are made years after an injury occurred and the Vets might not really know where to start,” she said.
“They may have been injured jumping out of a helicopter 20 years ago, left the service and gone on to work in a regular job, and the injury has come back to haunt them as they’ve grown older.
“The claims process can be quite complex, so we are here to help them every step of the way, from filling in the paperwork to lodging appeals.”
Mr Gainey says many veterans don’t know the advocate organisation exists and what is available to them.
“Some people don’t even know the DVA exists and they are just going through life not taking full advantage of what is available to them or where to seek help,” he said.
“With our advocates’ help, they can seek compensation or medical help through the DVA for the rest of their lives.
“If rehabilitation is not the solution then there are other options including possible pensions or a lump sum through the DVA.”
The Centre is supported by local service organisations and business, including Canberra Toyota which recently donated a pre-loved Mazda tray back ute.
A range of activities will be held for members this year, including cooking-for-one classes, ladies morning teas, family fun events, and a ladies craft group held every third Friday of the month.
The Centre also has woodwork and metal workshops for members and a library with books and DVDs.
The Centre operates a mobile food van, which attends community functions, such as the Queanbeyan Car Show and the Highland Games. The van is operated by members and raises around $12,000 each year.
To join the group or find out more about the DVA advocate service, visit Veterans Support Centre.
If you or anyone you know needs help, you can also contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24-hour crisis support. Mental health support for veterans and their families is also available through Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling on 1800 011 046.