More than half a million (581,139) Australians have served, or are currently serving, in the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Of that number, 14,769 identify as having Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin and 84,108 are female. By only making up 17% of the veteran community, there is a significant lack of support for minority soldiers and veterans, which is something that Veteran Benefits Australia is hoping to change.
Research reveals 66% of ADF members reported having an excellent or very good sense of being part of a group or community. However, there remains a lack of support, representation, and awareness for minority groups, such as indigenous, LGBTQI+, and female veterans.
Someone who knows this all too well is Air Force Veteran and mum of two, Michele Scherr, who despite serving almost 20 years as a Nursing Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, didn’t feel like there was a place for her in her own community.
“I was a single parent of two beautiful boys when I was deployed to several high-risk operations including East Timor, Iraq, and Afghanistan. After I was discharged from the ADF due to my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis, it was incredibly hard to transition back to the ‘mundane’ and I craved that feeling of a like-minded community and support,” says Scherr.
Aside from struggling to navigate seeking assistance for PTSD and feeling like she was left behind by the system, she also felt there was a gap in ex-service organisations (ESOs). “There are so many ex-service organisations that seem to be focussed on the Army and run by ex-Army veterans. I appreciate that these communities make up a large portion of the ADF, but even within my own RSL sub-group of nurses, I don’t feel comfortable because of the Army focus, meaning I unfortunately don’t go,” says Scherr.
Infantry Veteran, Brodie Moore explains why finding connection with peers is so important in and out of service. “Our time in service is filled with the sense of comradery and shared experience that creates lifelong bonds. This is something that should be carried on in our return to civilian life, when it is essentially the most vital time,” says Moore.
Founder of Veteran Benefits Australia, Thomas Bailey, agrees that awareness and representation is important within the veteran community, but should also be considered when it comes to the compensation claims process. “The Department of Veterans’ Affairs don’t offer separate programs for groups, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and say they help people based on their service. While this approach does ensure everyone is treated equally, certain circumstances may require a specialised approach. Admittedly, this is something that even we need to do in our veteran organisation and it’s why we’re starting the conversation, in hopes that it can create change within the community,” says Bailey.
Recognising that diversity and inclusion is vital in every community, Veteran Benefits Australia is calling on the DVA and veteran organisations to have more representation for minority soldiers and veterans.