When it comes to health care and compensation for our veterans, who may carry physical and mental wounds well beyond their time in uniform, as a nation we are getting better at acknowledging their service.
There are steadily improving measures put in place by sections of the Government such as the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) and non-Government bodies like the RSL and Legacy bringing us closer to meeting the needs of veterans and their families.
Unfortunately, for previous generations of ex-service men and women there was little support in place for them.
I spoke to Nambucca Heads resident Ron Donnelly who was called up for national service in 1969. When the 21-year-old apprentice butcher was called up, it never crossed his mind not to report to the army. He said you ‘just went with the flow’ in those days.
Ron was physically fit, a great boxer and a crack shot so he excelled during training in Puckapunyal and Singleton. Ron was soon sent to South Viet Nam as an Infantry reinforcement to the 9th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment. His wartime experience is not something Ron looks back on fondly.
Ron found it very hard to come to grips with how poorly he and his mates were treated on their return to Australia. He arrived back home on HMAS Sydney with little fanfare, with only his ill mother there to meet him. There was no assistance provided to get him and his gear off the Navy base in Sydney and he felt as if they were being treated like criminals.
Not long after his return from Viet Nam, Ron, bitter about the way they were treated and with no support services evident to him, found it very hard to adjust back into society. He left the army and began drinking heavily. I asked Ron how he was able to turn his life away from a downward spiral. Ron attributes the fact that he left Australia and traveled the world with getting his life back on track. Beginning in England and venturing along the infamous Hippy Trail through the Middle East, Ron saw the world. He was able to travel through Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, India, Pakistan and South East Asia. His adventures make for fascinating listening to say the least.
Ron eventually returned to Australia and although his life has had its ups and downs, he and his wife Sharon are proud grandparents and Ron focuses on the beautiful things in life. His garden is a sight to behold and he grows the most amazing award wining orchids.
Today there are many young people here on the Mid North Coast who have returned from active service, left the Defence Force and find it hard to adjust. The moral to this tale is that, unlike when Ron returned from Viet Nam, today there is support available.
For more information on how to get help your local RSL Sub Branch might be the place to start.
Visit rslnsw.org.au to find the contact details of your nearest sub branch.
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