Spend money on veterans' health, not war memorials
"THE best way to honour the veterans of 1918 is to look after the veterans of 2018."
As the centenary of Anzac Day approaches on April 25, a former Army chief has called for the government to divert grant funds from multi-million dollar event commemorations to improving veterans' mental health.
Professor Peter Leahy is a retired Lieutenant General who spent six years leading the army and is now the director of the University of Canberra's National Security Institute.
He said spending huge amounts of money on war memorials was less important than taking care of the mental health issues faced by Defence Force veterans.
"While it's right that we commemorate what happened in the First World War, we are allotting far too much money to landmarks in Canberra and France," he said.
"We should be diverting funds from the Anzac Centenary Commemorative Grants towards assisting veterans as there's still an enormous problem with suicides, with homelessness, with lives unfulfilled, problems with education and employment, family breakdowns and just people living in despair."
Prof Leahy said the Australian Government had just spent $100 million on a French military museum at Villers-Bretonneux.
The Australian War Memorial seeking more than $500 million in funding.
According to Prof Leahy, this spending was "way out of proportion" when veterans' mental health was an "enormous problem".
And his views are finding favour with returned service personnel on the Northern Rivers.
RSL Lismore sub-branch honorary secretary Wilson McClelland, said helping veterans was the very foundation of their group's mission.
"We support our members as much as can with the volunteers we have," he said.
"Currently we concentrate on aged care and hospital visitations, while any pension or welfare queries are referred to the people who are trained advocates with the required expertise."
Mr McClelland said any veterans living on the Northern Rivers not currently part of a sub-branch were most welcome to make contact with what he described as "a fantastic and supportive sub-branch".
RSL Bangalow Sub-branch secretary Col Draper said he believed diverting more funds into mental health was vital.
"Professor Leahy is correct, the Australian government needs to ensure it supports the people, families and communities who have chosen to serve," he said.
"We need to redress the balance of the commemoration and support for our veterans."
Liz Hill from the Veterans' Advocacy Service in Alstonville said many Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were experiencing devastating times.
"I've have been doing defence force welfare for 20 years and have never come across so many homeless, desperate, depressed and financially strapped veterans in the past three years," she said.
"While they will always the diggers, I feel the government could be better off spending on helping living veterans."
Help is available:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
Headspace on 1800 650 890