Claims RSL failing to engage young vets

Australian soldiers who served in recent conflicts are feeling isolated from the organisation that is meant to represent them.

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The Returned and Services League – which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year – is facing criticism it is no longer relevant to the current generation of veterans who are increasingly speaking out about post-conflict issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

And while the Australian public is today much better informed about the issues, the RSL is playing catch-up, former Australian soldier John Bale said.

“A hundred years ago is a hundred years ago,” Mr Bale told AAP.

“The modern veteran is not a stooped 70, 80-year-old.

“We need to look closer to home right now at those who have recently served.”

Mr Bale is chief executive of Soldier On – one of a number of new organisations designed to support recent veterans in their efforts to settle back into everyday life.

He said the RSL has been slow to respond to younger veterans – so much so he and his fellow ex-servicemen and woman have only recently started to “warm” to the organisation.

“The RSL is going through a transition at the moment,” he said.

“What it needs to do is look at the gaps that exist.”

RSL chief executive Sam Jackman said the body’s involvement in the Invictus Games – an international sports event for serving and former serving wounded, injured and ill defence force personnel – was an example of its engagement with younger veterans.

She said sentiments that the body was more focused on pokies and alcohol than providing support to veterans were wrong.

“We don’t say, ‘come in and spend money on beer and pokies’,” Ms Jackman told AAP.

“We say, ‘come in, we will help you in any way we can’.”

She challenged people who doubted the RSL to visit one of its 150 branches across the nation to observe its work.

Ken Foster from the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia said while he did think some sections of the RSL did “need to smarten up their act a bit”, it was still highly valued.

“The general focus of the RSL has always been on the welfare of veterans,” he said.

For Mr Bale, a gradual broadening in focus at Anzac Day commemorations to include young veterans was encouraging.

“As we transition out of Afghanistan and Iraq, I think it’s really pertinent to keep that continuation going of memory around what we’re doing right now strong,” he said.

“For those who unfortunately haven’t come back in the same way and need help – you can’t help them 100 per cent if you don’t really understand what they’ve been through.”