Veteran shopfront compromise

MORWELL veterans have expressed disappointment, yet mild relief, to discover their Department of Veterans’ Affairs local shopfront will be co-located to Department of Human Services Morwell

Federal Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Michael Ronaldson on Monday announced the government would close nine Veterans’ Access Network (VAN) offices in regional Victoria and New South Wales in June.

The Morwell VAN office will be co-located in DHS Morwell, retaining one officer of the current two, and continue face-to-face information services for Gippsland veterans.

“Our campaign has worked to keep it, but we’re disappointed that we’ll lose one of the two fellows,” Morwell RSL president Bruce Jeffrey said.

Mr Jeffrey, who led a campaign to stop the closure of the shopfront during the DVA’s consultation process in March, said the RSL tried its best to keep the service and offered DVA an office space at the RSL clubrooms.

“It takes in such a big area of Victoria that it’s going to be hard to run it with just one person,” Mr Jeffrey said.

Mr Ronaldson said the DVA consultation investigated the most effective and sustainable way to provide services to veterans, war widows and widowers, and their families living in the nine regions.

Ballarat has been given the same offer as Morwell, while Frankston, Gosford, Bairnsdale and Wollongong VAN offices will close.

Bendigo, Mildura and Warrnambool agency contracts will cease and DHS service centre arrangements will be put in place in those locations.

Veteran information services will be provided by DHS service centre sites in Frankston, Wyong, Nowra and Morwell.

“In reporting back to me, DVA has recognised that face-to-face contact remains important,” Mr Ronaldson said.

“It was also clear from the consultation that more and more clients are choosing to use the telephone or internet to contact DVA and visits to shopfronts have declined by 28 per cent since 2009.”

In addition to altered services, the minister said outreach services would continue to be delivered in each of the regions, including DVA staff visiting on scheduled dates to meet with clients who require assistance.

A spokesperson for the Opposition, Senator Don Farrell, has labelled the announcement the latest attack on veterans by the Abbott Government, following its cuts to the $215 annual payment to the children of veterans.

“These offices are the point of contact for the veterans’ community and give advice and support on issues ranging from pension benefits, financial assistance, transport problems and mental health issues,” Mr Farrell said.

“These closures will have a terrible effect on older veterans and war widows with no access to a computer, many of whom have relied on local services for many years.”