Supporting the Invictus Games should be a no-brainer by James Brown

We’ve been rebuilding RSL NSW this past year and catching up on 50 years of overdue reform.

The duty of this great league, a charity for over 100 years, is to deliver help to veterans and their families in need. Oftentimes, this includes our own members. But working out how and where to help veterans in need is a challenge, because of one simple yet stunning bureaucratic oversight. In the Australian Census, that great survey of who we are as a country, veterans are not — and have never been — counted.

It’s hard to reconcile the fact that veterans are not counted alongside the deep and abiding respect Australians have for military service and sacrifice. Because the census doesn’t include a question regarding service in the Australian Defence Force, there is no national data on where veterans live. That makes it hard for governments, and charities, to determine where to deliver the support services veterans need after their time in the military finishes. Do we need more veteran community workers and mental health experts in Ballina, Boggabri, or Bega? Right now, it is hard to tell.

The Department of Veterans Affairs can see those veterans who are already using its services, but it doesn’t have visibility on those who might need to reach out a hand in the future. And we know veterans, military-trained to be tough and self-sufficient, often don’t ask for help until the point they are in extreme crisis. Our RSL headquarters in Sydney is directly helping over 1700 veterans and their families across Australia who have urgent, complex, and critical needs. Our volunteers are providing welfare to thousands more through our presence in 350 locations across NSW.

We’ve only recently started counting the number of veteran suicides per year. Last year, as best we can tell, 85 veterans took their own lives. Behind each terrible number lies a family who will take years to piece themselves back together.

The unique hardships and traumas of military service demand that our communities grant veterans respect and support. And that institutions like the RSL and Legacy be eternally vigilant on their behalf.

In this final year of the Anzac Centenary we need to show our veterans that they are counted and are valued. There are several ways you can help.

First, help us make sure veterans are counted. The next Australian Census in 2021 should have a question identifying service in the Australian Defence Force. It’s long overdue. The Australian Bureau of Statistics will finalise census questions in the coming months. Let your federal member of parliament know you support making sure all of Australia’s veterans are recognised.

Secondly, think about what you can personally do to support veterans and their families. When you see someone in uniform, or wearing medals on their left breast, ask them about their military experience and thank them for standing up for Australia. Help us to make them proud of their military service. Join with many of Australia’s largest employers and make use of the exceptional skills veterans have from their military service. Some are setting employment targets for veterans, others are just making it easy to translate military skills into civilian CVs.

On Remembrance Day, turn out to pause and reflect on the Armistice. Choose a major veteran’s charity to support, either with your cash or your time.

Most important of all, get behind the Sydney Invictus Games. A thousand veterans and their families, impacted by their military service, will show you the healing power of sport, competition, and camaraderie. We’re immensely proud that every member of the Australian team will wear the RSL badge on their chest. Come together and watch these unconquered veterans do amazing things. Cheer them on. Hear their stories. Help the whole of Australia’s veteran community to stand together.

This article first appeared in The Daily Telegraph