Many Defence personnel return from active service overseas suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to the horrific situations they often confront during their tour of duty. In many cases, PTSD can lead to severe depression, where the person is incapable of taking rational steps to gain help and treatment; this often leads to addictive drug and alcohol dependency, anger & violence, criminal behaviour; end result – homelessness, incarceration or, worse still, suicide.
In 2009, the Australian Department of Veterans Affairs released a report that identified that on any given night across Australia, over 3000 veterans were homeless due to their service to our nation. More recently, organisations such as Homelessness NSW, have argued that the numbers of homeless veterans across Australia is drastically higher than 3000, and have noted an increasing tendency for homeless veterans to be comparatively young in age.
In March 2014, RSL Life Care, working with Afghan Vet, Geoff Evans, acting to address the most severe instances of vets from contemporary conflicts, living on the streets, with severe depression and drug dependency, established its ‘Homes for Heroes’ program at Narrabeen. The program was the only shelter for homeless veterans of contemporary conflicts, and their families, in Australia at that time.
The ‘Homes for Heroes’ program is available to veterans of contemporary conflicts, ex-servicemen and women post-1976 and the families of those cohorts; provided they are genuinely homeless. In addition to permanent residents, the facility periodically provides accommodation to families and veterans on a short stay basis, such as when a mother with children is fleeing an abusive relationship. One hundred percent of the residents suffer with mental illness, many are also wounded or injured, and residents usually arrive with no possessions at all.
The Veterans Benevolent Fund (VBF)”, was established in March 2017 to raise funds from clubs, the corporate sector and the general public to assist with veterans welfare and support services. The main recipient of these Funds will be the “Homes For Heroes” program, which provides safe and secure accommodation as well as rehabilitation services for veterans and their families.
The new VBF will conduct fundraising campaigns with licensed clubs and RSL Sub-branches, seeking Club Grant contributions, as well as the annual “Honour Our Heroes” Relay Walk being and the “Homes For Heroes” Dinner. The VBF is replacing the original “Western Sydney Homeless Veterans Project”, so every club which has committed to support this project will now receive requests from the VBF.
The primary object of the new VBF is to provide support to community organisations, ex-services organisations, and other service providers which deliver programs, support services, counselling, health services, accommodation and housing assistance, employment and training and other assistance to current or former ex-servicemen and women and their immediate families.
The goal of the Veterans Benevolent Fund is to raise $1 million over two years (2017 – 2020) to assist the ‘Homes For Heroes’ program to continue to provide these much needed services.