Early End For Veteran’s Service

This article was first published in The Warrnambool Standard (Fairfax Media) on July 19 2014

Image: Damian White

Image: Damian White

WARRNAMBOOL’S Veteran Access Network (VAN) office will close sooner than planned.

VAN manager for south-west Victoria Keith McKenzie hands in his phone and laptop on July 24, a week earlier than expected.

The closure was announced in April as part of a series of changes to the Department of Veteran Affairs’ (DVA) rural shop-front services after consultations with veterans.

The service is responsible for providing support and information to veterans and their dependants, war widows and widowers and Australian Defence Force personnel as well as students, teachers and historians.

The Warrnambool office serves about 2000 veterans across Corangamite, Moyne, Warrnambool, Southern Grampians and Glenelg municipalities.

The closure comes as part of the department’s focus on providing services to its younger clients, including those in service and those who have recently been discharged, a department spokesman said.

Mr McKenzie, who has held the position for 14 years, said there had been a decline in visits to the office.

The information can still be accessed online, at a veterans’ information centre run through Centrelink or through the Department of Human Services in Warrnambool.

The national call centre number has been retained following feedback that veterans preferred using the service via telephone. The feedback from the general veteran community following the announcement had been varied, Mr McKenzie said.

“There’s been a lot of support for the local office and older veterans would still prefer to have that face-to-face contact, but they’ve had the opportunity to report back to the DVA under feedback that’s gone back,” he said.

Warrnambool RSL president John Miles said the closure of the local office made it very difficult for older veterans, with many unhappy that they’ll have to go through Centrelink.

“Older veterans don’t like to use the phone or the internet, and some don’t have those facilities accessible,” he said.

“The crowds and queues that are often at Centrelink also make it a more stressful process for veterans, particularly those with post-traumatic stress syndrome.”

Mr Miles stressed that while veterans will continue to be looked after, it will be made a lot harder.

The nearest VAN office is Geelong. However, Geelong staff will visit the region on scheduled dates.

Mr McKenzie said he expected the RSL would try to make up for closure of the office, and has plans to volunteer at the RSL once he finishes.

Mr Miles said the RSL’s own veteran information centre was something that was being looked into, although it was too early for details