Mitchell Shire Crs Fiona Stevens and Rhonda Sanderson, Minister for Veterans Affairs and Defence Personnel Andrew Gee, Mayor Bill Chisholm, Nationals candidate Sam Birrell and Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum.

By Colin MacGillivray

FEDERAL Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Andrew Gee visited Seymour on Tuesday last week to announce a $27 million grants program to support Australian Defence Force, ADF, veterans.

The Veteran Wellbeing Grants Program combines two former federal grants programs – the Veteran and Community Grants Program and the Supporting Younger Veterans Grants Program – under one umbrella, beefing them up with an extra $20 million of funding.

The grants will be open to all ex-service organisations, as well as community groups and health organisations that support veterans and their families.

Mr Gee said there was scope for a wide variety of projects to be funded under the program.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the exciting and innovative projects and programs that are going to come forward as we roll out this program in the weeks ahead,” he said.

“I think you’re going to get ex-service organisations who are very interested in the program, but you’re also going to get other community groups who work with veterans or have ideas that are able to help and support our veterans and the veteran community.”

Mr Gee said groups with ideas to develop apps aimed at supporting veteran employment and mental health could benefit from the grants.

“I’ve heard a range of ideas as I’ve moved around the nation, so I think you’re going to see many and varied projects come through,” he said.

“One of the things I’m hoping this grants program will be able to address is projects that improve the transition process for veterans. It’s vitally important [that veterans and families are better supported when they leave the service].

“Our veterans and their families give our country their best, and Australia needs to give them its best in return.”

Mr Gee said the government would relax guidelines on applying for grants, including raising the maximum grant limit to $1.5 million.

“There are some great organisations out there that haven’t had funding for whatever reason, so we’ve tried to ease up the guidelines,” he said.

“Some groups haven’t been able to get funding in successive years because the grant guidelines say if you’ve had funding the year before you can’t get it in a current year. We’ve removed caps like that to make it easier for those groups.

“We want to get as much help to veterans as fast and effectively as possible.”

Seymour RSL sub-branch president Andrew Cox, an Afghanistan veteran, said while extra funding for veteran support initiatives was welcome, he believed a more structured program would be appropriate.

“You’ve got 3500 ex-service organisations and … if you want to start an ex-service organisation, all you need to do is get an ABN. There are a few of them where it’s just one or two people,” he said.

“I think there needs to be some governance … and not just saying, ‘here’s the money, fight amongst yourselves’.

“I believe they need some sort of governance structure, whether it’s the RSL or it’s an independent [body], but 3500 [organisations] playing free-for-all is probably not the best management strategy, especially when it comes to complex issues like transitioning veterans and mental health and suicide.”

Mr Cox said Seymour RSL would ‘definitely be applying’ for grants under the program.

“We don’t have disabled access to the hall and we don’t have disabled toilets, which is a massive issue for guys with two prosthetic hips and a prosthetic knee. Two of our members are in wheelchairs. It’s an issue because those guys can’t come,” he said.

“Even if you do have that physical bricks-and-mortar presence, it has to be all access.

“[We’re] paying $1500 a quarter in power bills. If we had solar, that $1500 could be going to [the members]. So we’ll be applying for a few things.

“Hopefully [the money] gets to the organisations that are legitimately putting in the hard yards.”

Mr Cox said an app called Swiss 8, started by fellow Australian Afghanistan veterans, was a good example of an innovative project that could benefit from government funding.

The app aims to decrease suicide in the veteran community by promoting physical and mental wellbeing and a sense of purpose and connectedness.

People can find the Swiss 8 app by visiting swiss8.org.

Free, 24-hour confidential counselling and support for current and former ADF members and their families is available by calling Open Arms on 1800 001 046.

Lifeline Australia provides free, 24-hour crisis support and can be reached by calling 13 11 14.

People can call HeadtoHelp on 1800 595 212 or visit in person at 54 Tallarook Street, Seymour to learn more about support services.