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He is just one of the 300 veterans who leave the ADF each year who experience homelessness.
For many, transitioning back into civilian life can be the biggest obstacle and leaders are now calling for more to be done.
“If the veteran can’t get work, it can lead to financial difficulties; this can affect the household and result in relationship problems,” Vasey RSL Care Executive General Manager Chris Gray told Weekend Today.
“If the family breaks up, the veteran can find themselves staying on a mate’s couch or even sleeping in their car. Ultimately, this situation can bring out latent mental health issues, or lead to problem drinking, gambling and so on.”
Hughes and his close friend, Alan Murphy help veterans who find themselves in that same difficult position.
“I started surfing couches, staying at friends’ places, and family. I ended up sleeping on creek beds for nearly a year,” Hughes said.
Murphy is a Vietnam War Veteran and spent more than 500 days across two tours in Vietnam.
He now lives in assisted housing among dozens of former veterans.
“The next day I was a civilian. All I had was a paper saying discharge certificate. And that was it,” he said.
“I see these young guys come off the street and I just see how hard and what they’ve been through.”
Putting up your hand and seeking assistance can also be a difficult pill to swallow for many.
Keith Walsh spent nearly five years homeless, sleeping most nights in his car.
“You’ve gone from having support, unlimited support. To you have to fend for yourself,” he said.
Walsh eventually got in touch with VaseyRSL, a leading provider in ex-service housing.
“If it wasn’t for Vasey, I would be dead now,” he said.
“It’s given me a purpose to go on.”
VaseyRSL are a critical source of information for leaving when leaving the ADF, who are not only in-need of emergency housing but, equally, assistance in returning to civilian life.
The charity is now hoping to build an industry-first wrap around service in Melbourne’s northern suburb of Ivanhoe.
“There is lot’s of different support but we are talking about a home and the services,” chief executive Janna Voloshin said.
“We are going to put the roof over their head, get them off the street and then assist them with everything they need to get to a stage where they can live independently.”
It’s a solution younger veterans like Damon Valentine are desperately calling out for.
The former Army Private suffers from severe PTSD and said the exiting process from the military needs to be reformed.
“They need one in every state to do this sort of work. And hopefully, this can be the first of what will be at least nine more,” he said.
For a force that prides itself on remembering those that served, many claim they feel forgotten.
The Albanese Government says it’s committing millions to fund specialist services for veterans and families but the opposition is standing in the way.
“We are establishing our $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund and from that there will be a $30 million fund specifically for veterans homelessnes,” Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Matt Keogh said.
“But that whole program is currently at risk because the opposition is opposing the establishment of that fund.”
While the future of the fund rests in the hands of those in Canberra, veterans say they need assistance now.
“Every little bit helps. If you’re struggling you can get a feed here. You can get medical attention here… just having someone to talk to,” Hughes said.
The Defence All-hours Support Line can be reached on 1800 628 036, and the Defence Member and Family Helpline on 1800 624 608
Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling can be reached on 1800 011 046.