A FEDERAL Government decision to close the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) regional office in Warrnambool and merge it into the Department of Human Services (DHS) has been described by defence veterans as a backward step.
From July 31 the DVA office on Raglan Parade with its contracted officer will close and inquiries about assistance for defence service veterans, war widows, widowers and their families will have to go through the DHS system.
The office served about 3500 people in a region stretching from Colac to the South Australian border and north to Balmoral and Coleraine.
Federal minister Senator Michael Ronaldson said surveys showed more and more clients were choosing the telephone or internet while visits to DVA shopfronts had fallen 28 per cent since 2009.
However, Warrnambool RSL sub-branch president John Miles said his understanding was that south-west Victorians preferred face-to-face contact with someone well-versed in their issues.
“Most elderly people don’t like discussing their affairs on the telephone and many don’t use the internet,” Mr Miles said.
“We know from our work with aged care and welfare that personal contact is preferred. Our branch lodged a submission, but I’d say the decision had already been made.
“With people coming back from modern combat zones there will be even more need for support services.”
The Standard understands the Warrnambool DVA officer also helped communities gain government funding for upgrades to halls and other facilities used by veterans.
Member for Wannon Dan Tehan and the minister’s office said the Warrnambool DVA contractor had already indicated he would not be renewing his contract regardless of the outcome of the consultation process.
“Current services in Warrnambool have been available for restricted hours and days,” a spokesman said.
“DHS Warrnambool is open all day during normal business hours and this will continue once they start providing the veterans information services.
“This service will also be augmented by outreach support.”
Mr Tehan said he understood that inquiries through DHS outlets in the south-west would be referred to Warrnambool as a central point.
“I see it as part of the realigning of services for the one-stop, one-shop approach to combine all government human services,” he said.
“DVA will be writing to all clients in the affected areas with timeframes and information on the new arrangements.”