Veterans office was 'in decline': dept defends Nowra transfer

A shopfront service for veterans is being closed in Wollongong and reborn in Nowra to bring the assistance closer to an Australian Defence Force base, according to the government department behind the change.

Earlier this week Veterans' Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson announced the Veterans' Access Network (VAN) office in Burelli Street would close in June, following a rev iew of nine such offices in NSW and Victoria.

The service will be absorbed into operations at the Department of Human Services Office in Nowra, where existing staff will be given new training.

Illawarra Labor MPs Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones criticised the move as a "political decision" which takes the service out of Labor-held territory and into Liberal MP Joanna Gash's seat of Gilmore.

However, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans' Affairs pointed to declining visitation at the Wollongong office - down 20 per cent since 2010, to about five visits a day - to explain the decision.

The spokesman added the presence of HMAS Albatross in Nowra was an influencing factor.

"Whilst client visits in the Wollongong VAN have been steadily decreasing, there has been an equally steady increase in demand for client interactions in and around ADF bases," the spokesman said.

"Moving the service to DHS Nowra means that we are still able to service the veteran population of the Illawarra area, as well as placing the office in closer proximity to HMAS Albatross. DVA will also be conducting fortnightly outreach visits to Wollongong."

The veteran community will be invited to make an appointment to see a department staffer during the fortnightly visits, which will likely be held at a Wollongong RSL.

The Wollongong office is staffed by three people, who will be given the option of redeployment within the Department of Veterans' Affairs or the wider Australian Public Service, according to the department spokesman.

The Wollongong staff had proposed changes to their office - such as new back-of-house functions to increase the site's viability - in one of 15 Wollongong-related submissions received by the government in its review.

"While these submissions were well thought out, the ideas they proposed are the opposite of what is occurring in other DVA offices where functions which do not have to be performed locally are being consolidated into fewer locations," the spokesman said.

Asked if veterans would queue alongside jobseekers in the new Nowra service, the spokesman said the office would include a designated waiting area for veterans "if space permits".

Veterans' Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson.

Veterans' Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson.


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