Think Piece: Why so many ancillary ex-service organisations?

Moose_2_croppedI find it interesting that over the last two decades or so the number of ex-service organisations has increased significantly.  So too, has their self-determined roles and responsibilities, operating as they do within parametres which could be described as well-intentioned. Increasingly they take on many issues which are detrimental to veterans and their families.

Not only have things at the community level changed, but the role of government in the veterans’ services landscape has also increased significantly over these years. The formation of the  Department of Veterans’ Affairs, contrary to what you might expect, has not produced a consolidated evaluated list of what’s available for veterans.

The question I would like to pose for consideration during this Anzac Centenary period therefore is this; “where does the duplication end and at what point is it rationalised to ensure our capability is not  minimised?” To put this in a military context – let’s apply the ‘principles of war’ and see what emerges. Have we failed to realise the gains that may be achieved by adhering to the sixth and seventh principles – to maximise concentration in order to economise effort?

At face value having over 20 organisations in South Australia alone, aiming to support veterans and their needs does not necessarily mean this is excessive or that they dilute available resources. Rather they could be seen as strengthening options for veterans. While those who support the concept resile against the idea of any form of rationalisation, is it our responsibility as a community to find a way to examine what these ESOs offer?

Is there value in all of the organisations remaining in the market place and do perhaps some represent a duplication of services which could be rationalised? Although the information is not available to answer that question accurately, from what we know anecdotally in South Australia, there does appear to be some duplication, but not to the extent that the effort is necessarily wasted.

So the answer is not as simple and straightforward as one would like. I would argue however, that it is a question that we should be asking and effectively finding ways to solve what appears to be diluting the capability.

In my view the first step is to list the type and number of organisations which fit into the category of providing support to veterans and ex-service personnel across South Australia. This is currently an unknown.

There are a number of ESOs which operate more in a social sense than for the provision of specific services. Some of these grew from the Vietnam era and concentrate on provision of social outlets for their members. Growing numbers of contemporary veterans are feted by them, but in some cases more to gain extra membership than deliver a service to veterans per se. That said some of these ESOs do provide valuable advocacy services.

There are also a number of ESOs which work pro-actively to provide help to our younger veterans. Organisations such as XMRC, Men’s Sheds, Soldier On and Trojan’s Trek fall into this category; committed to providing practical hands-on help.

Lastly, should DVA become involved in some or any of the matters referred to above? It seems to me that most of these responsibilities are best retained by the organisations whose idea it was in the first place, providing the outcomes are beneficial. The status quo should therefore remain. However DVA, as a “purchaser of services,” appears to have not yet recognised the contribution made by these initiatives in spite of their value.

This year the Queensland RSL embarked on a process of creating a directory which lists their state’s veterans and ex-services organisations, together with information relating to the services they provide. This undertaking was deemed necessary and worthwhile to create clarity and a centralised point of access for Queensland veterans.

A website directory which will be the outcome, to be useful and successful will depend on the positive involvement of those organisations with a desire to be listed. Listing will not be automatic, as there are governance issues involved. Nonetheless, the idea is worth pursuing as it will centralise those organisations with a shared interest, which currently make up the extensive palette of veterans’ services.  This will create a level of transparency that is currently not available – a sensible undertaking indeed and why not in every state?


Moose served as an Officer in the Australian Army for 25 years, including a 13 month tour of duty in Vietnam with 5 RAR. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1988. During his career Moose served  in New Guinea, Sydney, South Vietnam, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide with varying jobs. Working alongside a number of other veterans, Moose helped launch and run Operation Flinders, a youth at risk program. In 2009 he commenced his involvement with a resurrected Trojan’s Trek. Moose, with the invaluable assistance of his wife Minnie, and a committed staff now runs treks each year in SA and QLD catering seperately for male and female participants. Moose is the Captain of the Upper Sturt CFS Brigade, a past member of the Veterans’ Advisory Council and immediate past President of the RAR Association. He was awarded an OAM in 2009 for services to veterans and youth at risk.