After speaking with the exceptional, Geoff Evans (pictured here) who has served as a Commando in East Timor and Afghanistan, we couldn’t help but be moved by his own story and more significantly, what he is personally doing to make a difference. So we asked Geoff if he would write an article for us as a ‘Guest Blogger’ in the lead up to Christmas as there is something that we can all do at this time of year to help those that protect us and our shores…….Lest We Forget.
Spare a thought for the thousands of Homeless Veterans sleeping rough this Christmas. The Australian Defence Force has deployed 67,000 troops to various conflicts since the Vietnam War.
Homelessness was a significant issue for Vietnam veterans and their families, and sadly, is endemic among younger veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In the shadow of the centenary of the First World War, up to 3,000 diggers remain homeless on any given night.
This Christmas, what can you do to make a difference?
In March of 2014, RSL LifeCare established the Contemporary Veterans Homelessness and Assistance Program (CVHAP) in Narrabeen, NSW. Homelessness itself is a symptom of war caused mental illness, such as PTSD. To the right of the spectrum is suicide, to the left: alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and other problems.
We currently have 24 veterans and two families enrolled in the program, but we have been reduced to accepting only the most severe cases. This is not due to lack of accommodation, but rather through lack of funding to provide the necessary wrap around support services that make the program work. These include everything from providing tooth paste and furniture, to transport, case management and a toy or two for the children.
Since publicising the existence of the program just a few weeks ago I have taken requests for help from right across Australia. The common and sad refrain is that currently we can only provide housing at Narrabeen. As younger veterans have children and other commitments they often cannot leave their locality, and so they remain living in cars and on the streets. We have to do better.
We have also seen growth in our services to veterans and families who are at risk of homelessness. This can occur when, for instance, a young veteran leaves the military without an illness or injury being accepted by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. If they are unable to remain employed, as is often the case with mentally ill veterans, they lose their income. Homelessness can quickly follow. We are working to try and keep them in their homes. Entire families are at risk, and its proving a growth industry for us, as a decade of war collides with an inadequate repatriation system.
For those of us working with these remarkable young veterans it is soul destroying to watch them suffer for want of funding. All veterans entering the program suffer from mental illness, most enter with an intense sense of shame as well. They were our nations finest, help us help them.
If you can help, please visit the RSL Lifecare Page Here… (and scroll down).
Our Most Recent Resident: Case Study
Veteran X is 38 years old, and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan on multiple tours. He entered the program in mid-November 2014 and is our 22nd resident. Veteran X was still serving in the Australian military when he was admitted to hospital for treatment of PTSD and related alcohol abuse. Whilst he was in the hospital, the Australian Defence Force medically discharged him from service. This meant he was no longer entitled to a Defence house, and accordingly, his family was evicted while Veteran X was in hospital.
Tragically Veteran X’s relationship could not withstand the terrible strain of Veteran X’s condition and his circumstances. Veteran X’s marriage ended and his wife and children moved into their grandmother’s house. Sadly Veteran X no longer had access to his children. Veteran X has described to me the sense of utter desolation and helplessness he felt. “I just couldn’t believe this could happen to me” he said. “I devoted my entire life to serving the Nation, I was good at my job and I had a career”. A few weeks after his marriage failed he attempted suicide.
Many months later, as Veteran X approached the date of his discharge from hospital, he literally had nowhere to go. Like most of the young men and woman in our program he would have been living on the streets. Fortunately he met one of the young veterans we’d previously placed in the PTSD program, who gave Veteran X our details. Veteran X was initially quite a challenge, but we are a peer led program, and other veterans who have walked the same path took him under their wing. He has come such a long way; he has joined our AA support group and will shortly start a training course. A remarkable young man, like the rest, all he needed was a chance. A testament to his hard work and the program’s success: Veteran X will have his children this Christmas Day.