'How dare they': family furious over closure of Wollongong veterans office

Susan Walton with her father-in-law, Frank Walton. Picture: ROBERT PEET

Susan Walton with her father-in-law, Frank Walton. Picture: ROBERT PEET

The family of World War II veteran Frank Walton is outraged over the imminent closure of a shopfront service for veterans in Wollongong.

Kanahooka couple Andrew and Susan Walton said the Veterans Access Network (VAN) had given them – and many other veterans and their families – invaluable support, advice and understanding.

Mrs Walton said she was shocked by the announcement in April by Veterans Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson that the VAN office in Burelli Street would close this month, with services to be relocated to the Department of Human Services office in Nowra.

‘‘How dare the government cut back services to our returned soldiers, who fought bravely all over the world,’’ she said.

‘‘My father-in-law falsified his age to join the army at just 17. He served for three years in New Guinea as a field carrier where he had to roll 44-gallon drums of fuel for the forces – using machetes to get through the thick jungle.

‘‘He’s had knee problems ever since plus other health issues due to the tropical environment and the pesticides that he breathed in.

‘‘He served his country and then he came home and worked and paid taxes his whole life – now at his time of need, he is finding it hard to access the help and support he needs.’’

Mrs Walton said her father-in-law had deteriorated since losing his wife, June, a few years ago. Now blind and confined to a wheelchair, the family had made the tough decision to place him in a nursing home last August.

‘‘We’ve had a battle trying to get necessary changes to his pension and were sent an 80-page document by the department to fill in,’’ she said.

‘‘Without the help of the VAN workers and volunteers – some of whom are returned soldiers – we would not have been able to understand it, let alone fill it in.

‘‘We are still awaiting a response from the department – and now we’re being told if we need assistance to go to Nowra to see a human resources officer.’’

A Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman said the decision to close the Wollongong office was made due to declining visitation, down 20per cent on 2010.

It was part of a review of nine such offices in NSW and Victoria but just one of three that would be moved to another town. The Wollongong office will close on June 13, with services available in Nowra from June 10.

‘‘We’ve been told that after consultation with the community, the department found that more people were choosing to use the internet or telephone to contact them,’’ Mrs Walton said.

‘‘What a load of rubbish. My father-in-law would not know how to use the internet, and it’s extremely frustrating to try and get through to someone on the phone.’’

A department spokesman said outreach visits to Wollongong would start in July, with locations and times yet to be announced.

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