30 September 2022

Veterans advocates say calls for a well-being centre in Wagga do not go far enough

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Pro Patria Centre board director Jacqui Van de Velde said Mr McCormack’s call for a veterans well-being centre comes just days after another Wagga veteran attempted suicide. Photo: Davidf.

Federal Member for Riverina Michael McCormack says local veterans deserve a well-being centre in Wagga and it should be a priority for the new government.

Mr McCormack addressed Parliament on Monday (26 September) to stress the urgency for a veterans’ well-being centre in Wagga.

“The latest Census data indicates there are more than 3800 veterans in the Riverina electorate of which 1426 reside in Wagga Wagga – those figures do not include any family members who may also require support,” Mr McCormack said.

“All three arms of the Defence Force are in the regional city – the Home of the Soldier, Blamey Barracks at Kapooka, RAAF Base Wagga which also delivers training for the Royal Australian Navy.

“A strong support network needs to be made available for if and when they or their family members need it, which is why I have been fighting to establish a well-being facility.”

Pro Patria Trust secretary Alan Lean said the request didn’t go far enough.

“Wagga deserves far more than a well-being centre, it deserves a treatment centre for veterans,” Mr Lean said.

“And something that really treats our veterans who up to this point in time have been neglected by both government, health professionals and even the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).

“Pro Patria will be doing all of the things that the Government and the traditional lines of support have ignored with the treatment that’s been created for our veterans,” he said.

READ ALSO Veterans and ADF personnel are strongly encouraged to tell their stories to the Royal Commission

Mr Lean said the Pro Patria Centre was being created without the Government’s support or the traditional lines of support for veterans.

“Local people in this community recognise the desperate need that these people have and want to make sure that we offer them that support,” Mr Lean said.

Pro Patria Centre board director Jacqui Van de Velde said the announcement came just days after another Wagga veteran and father of three attempted suicide after having difficulty sourcing DVA-approved treatment locally.

Ms Van de Velde said a survey in 2021 firmly established that the model of a shopfront “veteran well-being centre” was not what the veteran community wanted or needed.

“The need is for a centre that brings integrated treatment and holistic support to veterans and their families,” Ms Van de Velde said.

“Federal Government can make a difference to the close to 4000 veterans and their families in the Riverina, by engaging with Pro Patria and helping this community-led initiative to develop a centre of excellence in veteran mental and physical health in the region.

“We know our people and the need is acute and urgent.”

She added that Mr McCormack was their federal parliamentary patron and they genuinely appreciated his support.

“Mr McCormack has raised concerns that we too have expressed regarding the Federal Government’s support for a dedicated veterans support centre in Wagga to service the Riverina.

“The previous government had pencilled in $5 million to be allocated for a veterans’ centre in Wagga and Pro Patria Centre would be applying to be the recipient of that funding.

“The Albanese Government has taken that plan off the table.”

READ ALSO New facilities to offer much needed treatments to the Riverina’s veterans and first responders

Ms Van de Velde called on Federal Veterans Affairs Minister Matt Keogh to deliver “tangible, financial support”.

“The Albanese Government can make a real difference here in Wagga,” she said.

Ms Van de Velde said Pro Patria Centre was linking veterans and their families to services and treatments never before accessed in the Riverina.

“Pro Patria Centre is the living breathing centre that is saving lives with more than 300 referrals for services being taken since November 2021.

“That is 10 per cent of the veteran population in the Riverina electorate. And we have been doing all of this work as unpaid volunteers.”

Mr McCormack has met with the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Matt Keogh and Shadow Minister Barnaby Joyce to convey the importance of a well-being centre to Wagga and the wider Riverina region.

A spokesperson for the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs said the Australian Government was committed to delivering a package of practical support measures that would improve the welfare and well-being of veterans and families, building on the services currently available.

“The Government has committed $42.9 million to develop 10 new Veterans’ and Families’ Hubs across Australia in areas with significant defence and veteran communities, supported by the statistics we’ve seen in the recent census,” the spokesperson said.

“While there is no current funding allocated for a Hub in Wagga – the Government is in close consultation and engagement with the veteran community and is committed to ensuring veterans and families have access to the supports they need, where they need it most.”

Anyone experiencing distress can seek immediate advice and support through Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), or the digital mental health gateway, Head to Health.
If you are concerned about suicide, living with someone considering suicide, or bereaved by suicide, the Suicide Call Back Service is available at 1300 659 467.

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