Veterans feel squeezed out

Busselton Dunsborough Times

The Federal Government has denied allegations Busselton’s ex-service organisation is being squeezed out of eligibility for a veteran’s welfare program.

The Building Excellence in Support and Training grants, which fund ex-service organisations to provide pensions, compensation and welfare services, was reduced from $4.2 million to $3.5 million last financial year.

The forward estimates also revealed the budgeted figure would be cut by $1 million annually over the next four years.

Busselton RSL advocacy, pension and welfare officer Bob Wood said a smaller funding pool and more competition would make it harder to receive support.

Mr Wood said last time Busselton RSL applied for funding in 2008, applications totalled $10 million, with $4 million available.

“And that was before they cut the funding,” Mr Wood said.

“In cutting a million a year it means we are just a country sub-branch that doesn’t get any funding and is highly unlikely to get back on the list.”

Mr Wood claims he was told by a Department of Veterans’ Affairs officer that an ESO which did not receive funding in a previous round would be unlikely to receive funding in the next.

A spokesman for Veterans Affairs’ Minister Warren Snowden said funding had been kept steady since 2007 and the change was due to the declining number of older veterans.

“The BEST program is being adjusted and brought in line with the changing demographics of the veteran population and a corresponding reduction in compensation claims,” he said.

The spokesman said the application process was competitive but he denied Busselton was ineligible.

He said applications would be judged on their merits when the latest round opens this month and BEST grants were just one of the funding options available for veterans’ welfare.

Mr Wood said Australia’s military deployment since 1999 had outstripped the total during the Vietnam War, with a current age spread between 19 and 60.

“There are quite a lot of post-Vietnam veterans in and around Busselton who are still working and as they get older their needs will continue to increase,” he said.

While World War II ex-service numbers were shrinking, Mr Wood said he had an ongoing role supporting their widows.

Younger personnel and veterans, who were yet to ask for help, would also require assistance in the future, he said.

Member for Forrest Nola Marino said Busselton RSL was invited to join other sub-branches which had written to her office citing an increasing workload for advocacy officers.

Their cases were being presented to the Shadow Minister for Veterans Affairs, who would pursue the funding issue with the Government.

“This program is essential and needs to continue providing adequate support and training, especially in our regions,” Mrs Marino said.

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