Canberrans are a proud community who actively seek out opportunities to better support or serve others. For our veterans, this is captured in their sense of duty, the opportunity to serve the community or make the world a safer place for others. Respect and love for those they want to protect drive their reasons for enlisting.
Around 26,000 veterans and their families call Canberra home; a greater proportion of the population than most Australian cities. Some have retired after a long service career. Others have many years of their working life ahead of them. Some are looking to use the skills they developed in service for the community and others want to retrain for something completely new and different.
We have veterans with young families, who are carers for family members with health needs, or have health needs of their own. Some are involved in sports, music and the arts.
Canberra’s veterans have also been an important part of our recovery from bushfires, floods and the impacts of COVID through volunteering with emergency services and community organisations including the Canberra Relief Network.
When you’ve spent years of your working life, perhaps even most of your adult life, within the armed services, it can be difficult to navigate health and education systems or connect with community groups and employers who understand your life experience and the skills you can offer.
Everyone in our community should be able to access support for their needs, including assistance for veterans to transition more easily into everyday civilian life. This means better support for veterans and their families to access health care, employment pathways and education.
This is why the Federal Government has funded a number of veterans’ wellbeing centres around the country. They are a place you can casually drop in for advice on enrolling your children in school, find community sports clubs or volunteering opportunities, access health services, connect with training opportunities, seek employment advice or just have a cuppa with someone who understands your experiences and challenges.
So far, Canberra has not been put forward by the Federal Government as a location for a veterans’ wellbeing centre. It is something the veterans community has been asking for and, given the size and diversity of this population across the Canberra region, something we need.
Better support for veteran transition into the community and easier access to mental health care, are likely recommendations under the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. But we shouldn’t wait to deliver services the ACT’s veteran community has been asking for.
A veterans’ wellbeing centre will also provide much-needed support for Canberrans in active service and starting to think about their future beyond Defence. Having a single physical location that can provide opportunities for connection to the vast array of services in Canberra is an efficient, well-organised solution.
Australia spends $122.2 million per day on Defence. Investing in a veterans’ wellbeing centre would cost the tiniest fraction of that amount, yet would support a large, diverse group within our local community.
The Federal Government has an opportunity right now, in our nation’s capital, to better support veterans and their families by committing to an ACT veterans’ wellbeing centre.
Emma Davidson is the Greens Minister for Veterans in the ACT. She is also Minister for Mental Health, Disability, Seniors and Justice Health and Assistant Minister for Families and Community Services.