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RSL Australia is clearly trying, but fails to hit the mark

In the last week we’ve had the extraordinary situation where two former ministers for Veterans’ Affairs and the Chief of the Australian Defence Force were on the stand to offer explanations to the systemic issues accross DVA and the ADF that contribute to death by suicide. But instead of taking the opportunity to console the veteran community and demonstrate a willingness to demand better from our national leadership, RSL Australia found it more pressing to pick up on the issue that the Greens are failing to display the National Flag at their press conferences.

While some may rally behind the jingoistic call for flag and country, and plenty have, more will have prioritised the issues of veteran suicide and appalling failure of successive governments and the bureaucracies that support them.

We all have our views about political parties and politicians, the big deal is not what the Greens are doing at their press conferences, it’s the failure of the political class altogether that has brought about this dreadful condition.

Bill Westhead’s recent letter to the editor outlined the dismay and disappointment that was echoed by many on social media. And while he may have made himself unpopular amongst the RSL leadership, Bill has done the very thing it needs to be done - that is to genuinely, and with heart, advocate for veterans and their families.

My personal view is that RSL Australia is desperately trying to be relevant but doesn’t understand what’s needed. A case in point is its signature initiative to build an “innovative” online catalogue of service. Sounds wonderful until you dig a little deeper to understand that this solution is likely to create more problems that it will ever solve.

The research and field experience of frontline social workers is informative in this regard, and it has been laid bare by evidence presented to the Royal Commission. My own experiences as a researcher in veterans’ affairs and after listening to the frontline social workers I’ve had the privilege of working with, I’d argue that an online database is the last thing we need. Indeed, it may well be downright dangerous.

For support services to be effective, they need to be tightly coupled with case management and have proper clinical supervision. The issue has been raised time and time again at the Royal Commission from experts, practitioners, as well as veterans themselves. The thrust of the evidence is that piecemeal solutions, or what I would call band-aid solutions, do little more than supply a band-aid while overlooking root-cause issues.

It’s not clear how RSL Australia proposes to integrate case management into its current scheme, but my suspicion is that they haven’t thought about it. Despite all their good intentions, the overwhelming evidence is that we can do without yet another stand-alone initiative from an ESO struggling for relevance as it chomps away at the public purse.

I’d like to see RSL Australia make the bold steps necessary to reposition itself as leading ESO and not fall into the trap of merely peddling attractive yet empty hopes and dreams.

They’ve criticised the Greens because they won’t stand in front of our flag, now let’s see them stand up to the major parties, specifically the coalition who stood in front of the flag while they failed to fund DVA to anything near the level required for years and years.

It’s time for the RSL to hold government accountable for its actions to veterans. If it chooses not to, then as Bill Westhead suggests, someone else will.


Mark Schroffel is the Editor-in-Chief of Australian Veteran News. Mark is a veteran and has a day-job as 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. Mark can be followed on twitter @MarkSchroffel

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