A young ex-army family trying to re-establish themselves in the community would be lost without the Warrnambool RSL’s new Veteran Support Centre.
Adam Guilfoyle and Debra Edwards and their daughter Emma, 2, returned to Warrnambool in March after Mr Guilfoyle was medically discharged from the army with a back injury.
Unable to provide work or rental references from their eight years in Darwin and Pukapunyal with the Royal Australian Army Corps, the couple was unsure what their future held.
They said they had no idea the centre existed and thought they would have to go to Melbourne to access support.
“We were pretty lost when we got here,” Mr Guilfoyle said.
He said having the support from people who understood the challenges veterans faced was really helpful and RSL support services co-ordinator Deidre Bidmade had been a massive support.
They didn’t have any references or know where to start when it came to training and employment as the army provided everything they needed prior to his discharge.
Ms Bidmade helped them get in contact with a Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) representative, helped them to find and get into a house, financial assistance and they used the centre to research future employment options.
The things we take for granted are problematic for them. They haven’t got the resources or the support required to do the most basic things and that’s not their fault. That transition to normal life can be problematic.- Deidre Bidmade
“She let us know about all the things that we’re entitled to that no one ever told us about, the aid that’s available to us,” he said.
“It was good to have someone with a clear mind when it comes to what the next step in the process is and if Deidre doesn’t know she’s willing to find someone that does.
“We ended up in my parents house because we had nothing and now we’re in our own home.”
Ms Edwards said Ms Bidmade helped her enrol in first aid and CPR courses, which the RSL paid for, to help her find employment.
She also told her about a women’s group that met regularly at the RSL with their children.
Military compensation advocates Adam Kent and Tony Geyer are ex-military and ex-servicemen and have also provided the couple with information and support.
“Adam organises young veterans programs so we meet up with other veterans in the area, whether its out playing golf or a family barbecue,” Mr Guilfoyle said.
“It’s hard to find people that know how we think and how to fit back in properly. Having people who’ve served, both Tony and Adam, they know how you think and they know how to get along with you. They know your dramas pretty much.”
Mr Geyer said as return servicemen they understood the problems because “we’ve been through it.”
“We’ve both done time in the Middle East,” Mr Geyer said. “We want to get the message out there that we’re like-minded veterans providing a service to other veterans.
“A lot of people forget, after spending time in the military there is a certain language and certain way in which military people speak to each other.
“We understand that because we’ve been part of that so when they come to speak to us they don’t have to explain themselves when they use specific references or terms.
“That makes the young veterans, in particular, feel more comfortable speaking to us about what went on in their time,” Mr Geyer said.
Mr Kent said it was important to have younger veterans in the role as the times and stressors had changed over the years.
“As (young veteran) Adam Guilfoyle has touched on, we’ve experienced what they’re experiencing now. When we’re qualified and have our (veteran support) training we’ll be in a really good position to give the support and help them to feel comfortable. It’s also difficult for young guys, and I’m speaking from experience, to reach out for help as well.”
A closed young Warrnambool veterans Facebook page has been established for them to communicate and organise events.
Ms Bidmade said the centre was a “one-stop shop” which looked after the veteran community, including the younger service men and women, and their families.
Services available include compensation and advocacy, mental health, financial assistance, health and wellbeing, home and transport assistance and others.
“The things we take for granted are problematic for them,” Ms Bidmade said. “Because they’re new to the area they haven’t got the resources or the support required to do the most basic things and that’s not their fault. That transition to normal life can be problematic.
“Financially trying to get all these things together to try and move forward becomes problematic too. That’s where the RSL is able to lend financial assistance to help with things like that. We fit into all those gaps.”
Ms Bidmade said when the centre opened in March they had four young veterans on their books. They now have 36.
“We’ve got to focus on finding our young contemporaries. They’re the future of the RSL.
“We knew there were more out there so we were really focused on finding them because the young contemporaries have this thought that the RSL is for older blokes.
“We’re averaging anywhere in the vicinity of 80 to 100 calls a month in the Warrnambool veteran centre and the calls can be so varied.
Warrnambool volunteer welfare advocate Heather Hockley worked in a similar role for 10 years, but she said there were very few young veterans then.
She now volunteers her time and said it was a cause close to her heart with her husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather all serving.
“I love it,” Mrs Hockley said. “That’s why I want to give back because they were really good to me. I’ve got a soft spot for the RSL and they do such great work so I just wanted to give back.
“It’s a very important service and a lot of people don’t know we’re here. They think it’s a bar and bistro. Our mission is to look after the ex-service community and contribute to the community.”
President John Miles said DVA representatives from Melbourne visited recently to answer veterans’ questions.
Mr Miles said he and the club’s late secretary Alex Gannaway envisioned a support centre as part of the RSL’s renovations.
“It was something that was badly needed in Warrnambool, it’s up and running and it’s going really well,” Mr Miles said.
Paving way for next generation of veterans
Warrnambool RSL sub-branch is undergoing change not seen since the Vietnam War.
Veterans of recent conflicts and peacekeeping efforts are finding a warm welcome at the organisation, which is working to accommodate the next generation.
Warrnambool RSL vice-president Michael Bellamy said the sub-branch had now taken on more than 30 young veterans and their families.
“There’s a 675 per cent increase this year in veteran support, that’s amazing,” he said.
“Moving from the Second World War to our Vietnam veterans to this contemporary stage presents new challenges because we’re back to our youth again, younger veterans. They come with families and children that the RSL hasn’t had to deal with over a number of years.”
Mr Bellamy said the challenge now was to how best support these veterans and their families.
“In the end, it’s their club,” he said.
“We’ve changed our focus over how we engage with our veterans. The veteran support centre… is our prime focus.”
Mr Bellamy credited the veteran support co-ordinators with increasing the number of veterans “phenomenally”.
“There’s been a 55 per cent increase in calls, and in drop-ins there’s been a 106 per cent increase, that’s just July to August,” he said.
A meeting last week brought together Warrnambool’s major organisations to discuss the future of the RSL and more specifically what could be done to cater for younger veterans.
The RSL is working with Dr Greg Wood to put together a strategic plan to guide the sub-branch for the next three to five years.
Mr Bellamy said it was also an important way to create links in the community to support veterans returning to civilian life.
“Deakin University and TAFE, in particular, when veterans leave the defence force it’s like leaving home… You’re leaving a family out into an environment they’re not used to,” he said.
“(Veterans) come away with fantastic skills in leadership and project management and all sorts of areas, but actually relating those skills and transferring them to civilian life is not easily transferable.
“We’re looking at how we can build their resumes and their skills that are readily identifiable by employers in mainstream.”
Mr Bellamy said the public was aware of the commercial side of the RSL, but few knew about the work being done to support veterans.
“By supporting the RSL we’re actually supporting our veterans. That’s something that we’ve got to promote, not just on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day... but that’s a 365-day a year commitment that the RSL and our community needs to provide,” he said.
For more information about the support available to veterans and their families visit the centre at the Warrnambool RSL weekdays between 9am to 4.30pm, call Deidre on 5562 4634 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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