Letter to the NZ Herald – 26 September 2019

Letter by Andrew Lister, Howick
HELP FOR VETERANS – Thursday, September 26, 2019

In the article “Military Vets facing gaps in care,” Veterans’ Affairs Minister Ron Mark
states that the gap left by the underfunded No Duff organisation is not being picked
up by the Returned and Services Association. Should he not have said,” not being
picked up by Veteran’s’ Affairs?”

The Minister’s comments are even more interesting when in August he was quoted
as saying ’The Government has budgeted $1.1 Million a year for the past three years
to help Vietnam veterans. But figures show that at the end of March, less than
$200,000 of the year’s allocation had been spent – leaving more than $900,000
sitting idle. As a Vietnam Veteran, I would have no difficulty seeing some of the idle
funds used to assist NO Duff.

People from within the RSA movement have previously made attempts to contact
younger-generation veterans but have been told by the Ministry of Defence that
name and addresses of recently released veterans cannot be disclosed because of
privacy concerns. Wouldn’t it, therefore, be helpful if Veterans Affairs kept in close
contact with recently released veterans until the veteran settles back into civilian life?

Finally, in 2017 Professor Ron Paterson led a group seeking submission to enhance the Veterans Support Act. The complete lack of implementation of any of the recommendations from the Paterson Report could and may have a negative impact on the physical and/or the mental health of veterans.

No Duff Chief Executive Aaron Wood – a veteran of Somalia, East Timor, the Solomon Islands, and Afghanistan – said the service was no longer able to offer support to veterans any hour of the day or night, any day of the year. It had helped 107 veterans of the past year, most of whom were contemporary veterans, with a range of needs from needing support accessing services through to those calling with their “toes over the edge”. We are aware of a number of others who have committed suicide. “We know for a fact, there are people who have taken their own lives as a result of their service”.

No Duff received $25,000 in annual funding for four years after an announcement by Mark in 2017 which also saw the RSA receiving $250,000 a year.

A briefing to Mark from Veterans’ Affairs in July – ahead of the Minister meeting with No Duff – said the group had estimated its annual costs at $184,000. “The government grant covers 14 percent of these costs,” Mark was told.

Wood said the service was cutting back to provide support outside working hours, its cadre of veteran volunteers struggling to do their jobs and dedicate time to emergency calls for help. He said the need was increasing, with around 700 people leaving NZDF each year of which a quarter was assessed as being high risk.

Wood said the RSA wasn’t up to the task with its bricks-and-mortar club structure not offering contemporary veterans what was needed. “Their clubs are filled with grey heads. It’s yellow food, pokie machines, and cheap alcohol. There’s a culture of them-and-us that has continued since World War Two.”

He said the RSA had 105,000 paying members – of which a quarter had
served – and received income through poppy sales. It also had more than 130
land titles held across the country.

“There is a lot of money there and a lot of funding but it comes down to the
culture. The culture of the RSA leans towards the older veteran”. The issue was compounded with many contemporary veterans not seeing themselves as having that status, despite having to deal with the physical and psychological impacts of service in dangerous and difficult places.

Wood said the public also struggled to reconcile its understanding of a veteran, as seen marching on Anzac Day, with comparatively younger former service personnel who tended to stay among the crowd of onlookers.

Mark, who is in Timor Leste for the 20th anniversary of the international
an operation which shepherded in independence said he had told No Duff there
was no money immediately available?

He said any new money funding would have to come through a Budget bid
next year and until then Veterans Affairs had been helping approach other
agencies that might help with funding.

In a previously unpublished interview from March, Mark – himself a veteran – said his return from deployment was at a time where nothing was available. “I think both Defence and RSA dropped the ball, for a long time”.  Mark said the RSA was “jogged” by the emergence of No Duff – which registered as a charity in 2017. “That was a jolt and a reminder to the RSA they had dropped the ball, that there was an issue out there. It’s not just about turning up at the club, having a few beers, playing darts and a few games of pool… standing to attention at 6 o’clock and going home.

“This is about remembering the kaupapa that was set down by our forefathers who founded the RSA post-Gallipoli. That was about welfare, wellbeing and support for Veterans and their families”

Mark said the contemporary veteran deployed in different ways than the veterans from the great wars, who went in units tied to specific parts of the country and returned to those places in significant numbers. Today’s veterans could be among a deployment of 100 people, who fragmented to their own home towns and new postings on return. He said there was no way his 1982 deployment to the Middle East could congregate without significant difficulties.

“With that in mind, if the RSA is going to play that role, and fulfil the kaupapa that it was established to support, it’s got to find a way of getting me – as an individual and veteran of that deployment, and others – to walk through their door and feel at home and comfortable and at ease.

It’s got to find a way that I see in that building an environment and space where I can be me and meet other people like me and talk about the experiences we had. That’s difficult for the RSA because it is still very much entrenched in the old RSA”.

RSA president Barry Clark said the organisation was open to any veteran wanting assistance.  “The advantage of No Duff is they know a lot of the people. (They) are known
to a number of them and so they have achieved some very good results.”

Clark rejected suggestions the RSA hadn’t changed, pointing to the establishment of RSA hubs at Burnham and Linton camps to better connect with those serving.

It had also developed new programmes and training for district support
managers.

“We need to continually inform those younger veterans of the services we can
provide."
Clark confirmed there was no one on the RSA board or its presidents’ forum who would qualify as a contemporary veteran, other than the NZDF delegate on its board.

“One of the things is that we need to attract those people to make themselves
available”. He also confirmed no money had been spent marketing the organisation to
contemporary veterans in the last year. Clark said the RSA had, and would, make funding available to veterans whose needs to put to it by No Duff. But he said there was no direct funding for No Duff”. The poppy funds are not for the running of another like organisation. They are for the support of those (individuals) identified as needing help.

“We are not in a position to assist the staffing funding of No Duff. We just don't
have any funding to fix their staffing issues.”  A spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs said it provided “provides appropriate services to all veterans” Services included treatment for injuries or illnesses linked to qualifying service, compensation for permanent disability or inability to work, rehabilitation and family support.

Veterans Advisory Board Chairman Leith Comer said he had not previously heard No Duff was reducing services and considered it doing so to be a loss. “It would be of concern if groups that have in the past been very helpful arena able to continue.”

Deputy chairman Chester Borrows said: “No Duff’s role is obviously growing and the population of contemporary veterans is growing. It appears to be a role the RSA is not fulfilling.”

An internal review of the RSA which reported in September 2018 told the organisation it needed younger members. “To survive at all the organisation needs to demonstrate relevance to the community and to recognise and meet the needs of those whom its existence is designed to support.”

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3 Responses to Letter to the NZ Herald – 26 September 2019

  1. Frank Rands says:

    What makes contemporary Veterans (so-called) think they are so special and looking for handouts all the time Learn to stand on your own 2 feet like all the real vets did who never spoke about the hardships experienced overseas and certainly never looked for handouts. The NZRSA is dead in the water. I am a Vet of Malaya and the Indonesian Confrontation and have never had a dime from the NZRSA nor have I ever asked for anything. Contemporary Veterans are all wrapped in cotton wool and do a few months overseas mostly peacekeeping and expect to be treated like they did good frontline service. The new Veterans Support Act strongly favours the contemporary veteran and gives almost nothing to the pre-1974 Vets. Stop bleating and get on with your life !!
    J. R McQuinlan

  2. Neal Catley says:

    SHeeSh! Wow! To some degree I can understand JRM’s passionate and ropeable rejoinder to the NZ Herald article about the RSA and contemporary veterans. It’s certainly a knock down the front door with a 5 inch cannon take no prisoners message. Even though JRM, [like me – through the Indonesian/Malaysian confrontation], is a qualified older Veteran it is not a ‘one size fits all’ scenario/situation for either older or contemporary veterans. The notion that ex service personnel, [that is big boys and girls], don’t cry anymore and don’t need some form of assistance/help/support has thankfully been well and truly dumped in the Gash Bucket YONKS ago.

    To me, the vexed issue is that NZDF has ‘cherry picked’ who it considers to be worthy of NZ Veteran status and has without any sensible, thoughtful consideration conveniently pushed to one side all NZ pre 1974 service personnel stationed in Singapore and Malaysia working under the FESR/ANZUK banner. This is no bedtime fairy story, as during that period the British Commander-in-Chief Far East formally declared that Singapore and Malaysia is [repeat] is ‘hostile territory.’

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