A proud history, even more relevant today

By Major General (Retd) Greg Melick AO
President, RSL Australia

The history of Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL) dates back for well over a century and the organisation is perhaps even more relevant today than when it was established at the height of the Great War.

The RSL was founded in 1916 to address the lack of organised repatriation facilities and medical services available to those returning from service in the First World War.

Today, this remains our motivating force, but we are working hard to modernise our organisation to ensure that it is well-resourced and available to assist all veterans and their families. Our core mission has never changed but has continued to evolve to meet the needs of each generation of servicemen and women and their families, as well as the promotion of a secure, stable, and progressive Australia.

Current issues like the pending Royal Commission into Veteran and Defence Personnel Suicide, the alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and most recently the collapse of the Government in Afghanistan, the evacuation of Afghan nationals who assisted the Australian mission and the impact on veterans who served in that theatre are being addressed and assistance provided.

The RSL is acutely aware that our Afghan veterans will be dismayed by recent events in that country and must be assured that their effort and sacrifice is appreciated by Australia and was not in vain.

Yes, the RSL’s traditional roles of veteran welfare, advocacy and commemoration continue, while new roles have been implemented and evolved such as the recently announced national program of mental health training courses. RSL Australia will be working with Open Arms over the next year to deliver Mental Health Literacy workshops across the country to the veteran community.  The RSL Veterans Employment Program is another new key initiative, to provide veterans and their families improved options for employment opportunities, including resumes, counselling and employment placement assistance.

With a membership of approximately 150,000, supported by 3700 Women’s Auxiliary members, all managed through State Branches and some 1154 Sub-Branches, the RSL is the oldest, largest and most representative ex-service organisation in Australia.

Since its origins, the League has had a particular concern for the welfare of veterans, widows, and their dependants. This includes practical support to those in need, the management of aged-care facilities, and programs and the promotion of commemorative activities across the community.

The RSL plays an important role in providing the Australian Government, through the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defence, with a direct line of consultation with the veteran and serving communities in both the setting up and reviewing of policies and practices impacting on our community.

The RSL provides input to Government inquiries and reviews.  Over the past few years, we have provided submissions to important reviews and inquiries on military superannuation, injury compensation and rehabilitation, disability pensions and recognition of families and members of the Australian Defence Forces, injured, wounded, or killed while serving.

Currently, we are preparing input to the review by the independent Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal of unit recognition for Australian Defence Force personnel who served in the Somalia conflict.

Our deep concern at the incidence of suicide, attempted suicide and the mental health issues confronting veterans is well known. This is a very real and present problem that must be resolved.

For this reason, the RSL has been prominent in its representations to Government in the development of terms of reference for the forthcoming Royal Commission and will be presenting a detailed submission to hearings when they get underway. Our submission will represent the voices of all RSL members, veterans and their families and we are ready to provide all possible assistance during the operation of the Commission

We are also encouraging and will assist veterans to make individual submissions and representation to the Royal Commission, as well as providing access to mental health support, counselling, and further assistance both during and after the Commission hearings and outcome.

The Royal Commission provides the opportunity to determine all the factors contributing to the poor mental health experience of veterans and the alarming incidence of suicide and attempted suicide. It provides a clear pathway for better outcomes for our veteran community in the future.

The RSL is committed to providing whatever support necessary to find solutions that deal with this crucial issue which impacts severely on the entire veteran community.

Importantly, through all our representations and activities, the RSL is apolitical, but we do work to ensure that governments meet their obligations, to veterans, defence personnel and the broader Australian community.

Our State Branches and National Office engage with governments at all levels to enhance support and remove inequities for all veterans.  Recognising there will always be limits on what is possible, we seek fairness and greater support for those in need.

RSL plays an important role on behalf of veterans, giving a voice to government on national security and other issues of the day on behalf of veterans.

We actively promote our policies on national issues, particularly the defence of Australia, conditions of service of serving members of the Australian Defence Forces and the development of a national defence infrastructure and defence industry.

The RSL has a strong and committed membership spread throughout the length and breadth of Australia. As an organisation, we work hard to ensure that our members’ needs, and expectations are met and that we all share a strong sense of belonging and pride in our service and involvement in the RSL.

For well over 100 years, the RSL has served its members, our nation’s veterans and their families and strongly supported the defence and wellbeing of Australia. The needs may have changed, our role and responsibilities evolved, and our approach modernised and expanded, but our commitment to the veteran community is unbroken and our resolve to serve stronger than ever.

At its heart, the RSL is a service organisation. Our future remains in the hands of our committed members and the effective contribution we all make.

Lest we forget.

Image courtesy Defence Australia

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