This morning I spoke with Keith Walsh, a resident at the Vasey RSL Care Ex-Services Village in Cheltenham. Keith contacted me via our website because he wanted to talk to someone about what it is like to be vulnerable, uncertain and unheard. Keith is one of 90 or so residents at Cheltenham who is living in fear of imminent eviction.
Vasey RSL Care is jointly owned by RSL Victoria and the War Widows Guild of Australia and they have decided to sell.
Keith is one of the village’s younger residents. He is a 54-year-old veteran who grew up as an Army Brat. Keith’s dad was in the Army and he followed in his father’s footsteps at the age of 17. Now Keith’s son is serving, having completed two tours of Afghanistan.
Keith has a genuine need for support. Before taking up residence at the village in Cheltenham, Keith was either living in his car or was couch surfing. He told me that coming to the village was like coming back to family.
In a recent letter to residents the War Widows Guild (Vic) sought to allay residents’ fears about the proposed sale.
The guild admitted that it was “very aware of the negative impact of information [about the sale] and the impact it is having on many of our members.”
The letter explains some of the history of Vasey RSL Care and how it is structured. It goes on to say in a long-winded sentence that “it remains the intention of the War Widows Guild to encourage the sale of Vasey RSL Care through dialogue with its appointed member in anticipation of a vote by the members at some point to ensure that those funds that were originally used by the War Widows Guild and RSL Victoria to create Vasey RSL Care remain used for the purpose for which they were given.”
If that’s the standard of communication with residents no wonder they feel in the dark and scared.
RSL Victoria and the War Widows Guild are entitled to exercise their responsibility to manage and direct patriotic funds in accordance with their original intention. But vulnerable veterans and war widows are entitled to expect certainty about their futures.
RSL Victoria and the War Widows Guild seem oblivious to the fact that they are causing distress among residents to whom they have established a moral duty.
Keith is not just worried about where he is going to go, he is dreading the loss of his community.
RSL Victoria and the War Widows Guild appear not to have consulted with any of the residents about their decision to sell and their few attempts to keep residents informed have only added to residents’ concerns and fears.
The future of Vasey RSL Care is a problem that requires both creative thinking and compassion. Surely, with all the resources and influence these organisations have at their disposal, they could find a way forward that preserves these rare and precious communities.
There will be more on this story in the coming days and weeks.
We invite a response from RSL Vic and the War Widows Guild on this important issue.
While you’re here, please review some our realted stories
Mark Schroffel is a veteran, strategy consultant, and researcher interested in veteran support policies and transition programs. He designed and led the Melbourne Legacy sponsored ShoutOUT research initiative to gather insights and stories about post-1991 veterans and their families.
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