TAKING STEPS: Veterans Steve McDonald, Luke Gillam, Sam Smith, RSL national veterans affairs advisor John Hodges and veterans Andrew Johnstone and Brad Foster at the Duck Pond coffee club.
TAKING STEPS: Veterans Steve McDonald, Luke Gillam, Sam Smith, RSL national veterans affairs advisor John Hodges and veterans Andrew Johnstone and Brad Foster at the Duck Pond coffee club. Andy Parks

Coffee club becomes support network for veterans

AFTER giving the best years of their life to the military, many ex-service men and women return to civilian life with severe physical and mental injuries.

Many feel they are abandoned by the defence services, with little support or information about their entitlements or where to seek help.

But a group of contemporary veterans living around the Northern Rivers have formed their own support network via a coffee club and get-together at South Lismore's Duck Pond Cafe.

The cafe is owned by army reservist Ryan Traise and for the past four months a group of men who have seen active service in Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, Somalia and the Solomon Islands have been coming together to share their experiences adjusting to civilian life.

The club offers practical assistance and moral support to the men and is welcoming of wives, girlfriends and other family members.

Andrew Johnstone is a retired major and co-ordinator of the Far North Coast young veterans outreach group. He said they are really trying to create an environment that is family-orientated.

"The spouses really do have a role to play because they are the ones dealing with the impact of the injuries at home," he said.

"The RSL can be so formal, whereas this allows the guys to have a chat in an informal social setting."

On Monday the group was visited by John Hodges, the national veterans affairs advisor for the RSL who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act and the inner workings of the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).

Mr Hodges gave the men advice on how to go about finding out what entitlements they may be eligible for, the hoops they would have to jump through and changes to the Act that mean DVA may be able to help them with job rehabilitation.

Some of the men said finding work was one of the biggest challenges they faced and the option of re-training could help them find their way in the next stage of life.

Post-traumatic stress disorder and depression are common among them and they are limiting factors in them entering the workforce, but the support of like-minded men with similar experi- ences is certainly helping them to overcome feelings of isolation in the community.

Page MP Janelle Saffin dropped by to catch up with the group.

"Having her here was good in that it made us feel like people are taking notice, that we're expanding and that it's not just us sitting here having coffee," former lance corporal Sam Smith said.



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