The Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL) has welcomed the support for veterans announced in Federal Government’s budget delivered last night.

While there are no real gaps identified and more can always be done, the RSL is pleased to see key policy matters addressed including reforms recommended by the current Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide and moving forward on the establishment of a network of additional Veterans’ and Families’ Hubs.

RSL President Greg Melick says the commitment and funding towards harmonising veteran entitlement acts is particularly welcomed, as is the decision to index pensions. The support for veterans’ employment is important and this should flow on to the RSL’s Veterans’ Employment Program.

“The RSL supports the commitment to appoint an additional 500 staff to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, however, given the broad challenges of recruitment across the nation there is a very real risk that the plan is not achievable within a sensible timeframe.

“The Government should now provide a clear pathway on how and when the staff will be appointed and there should be caution about whether it can be delivered in a timely way to address the backlog of claims,” Greg Melick said.

“The budget announcement to expand the network of Veterans’ and Families’ Hubs around Australia will support the wellbeing of more veterans and their families around the country. But more Hubs are needed and the RSL will push to see its existing network expanded further.

Commonwealth funded Veterans’ Hubs have already been established in Perth, Adelaide, Townsville, Nowra, Wodonga, and Darwin with additional facilities planned for Tasmania and South-East Queensland.

Greg Melick said the RSL strongly supported the Hub concept and had established DVA, and self-funded, Veteran Wellbeing Centres in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory, with plans to establish more.

“The Hubs provide a place for veterans’ services and advocacy organisations to co-exist and provide integrated support to current and ex-service personnel and families.

“Essentially, they offer a one-stop shop for a consortium of local veteran services, which can include health and mental health services, wellbeing support, advocacy, employment and housing advice, and social connection and work best when managed by ex-service organisations like the RSL.

“Importantly, the Hubs and their services are available to all current and former serving Australian Defence Force members and reservists and families.”

Greg Melick said the current Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide continued to place a spotlight on the mental and other health challenges facing the Defence and veteran community.

“It is pleasing to see the Government address many of these issues in its first budget, with a broad focus on the needs of veterans and their families.

“For example, a network of Veterans’ and Families’ Hubs at key locations around Australia can play an important role in managing the mental health issues confronting the Defence and veteran community and assist in addressing the devastating impact of the scourge of suicide on our veterans and their families.

“The funding announced in this budget is welcomed, but this should be seen as just a first step in ensuring we provide for the needs of those who have served in the defence of our country, as well as their families,” Greg Melick said.