Construction will start on the long-awaited Nowra Veterans Wellbeing Centre mid-January.
The centre will aim to provide an extended range of health and wellbeing services for local veterans, current serving Australian Defence Force members and their families. It's one of the first six wellbeing centers to be rolled out nationally.
An important milestone was reached at the Wallace Street, Nowra site, on Tuesday January 11 when the first sod was turned for the new centre.
Minister for Veterans Affairs and Defence Personnel Andrew Gee visited the site, turning the first sod with State RSL president Ray James, RSL LifeCare director and navy veteran Trevor Robertson, Department of Veterans Affairs Repatriation Commissioner Don Spinks and NSW Senator Jim Molan.
"It is a momentous day for this region and our veteran community," Mr Gee said.
"RSL LifeCare, with the support of RSL NSW, has been doing a great job running the Nowra Wellbeing Centre out of temporary premises in Nowra Lane and has already made a real difference in the lives of current ADF members, ex-service personnel and their families."
It will be a place of healing and connection and a hub for accessing health, education and employment support.Minister for Veterans Affairs and Defence Personnel Andrew Gee
There are more than 7000 local veterans and their families in the Shoalhaven and neighboring local government areas, as well as personnel from the local Royal Australian Naval bases HMAS Albatross and HMAS Creswell and the Army Parachute Training School.
Mr Gee said the facility has been carefully designed to include a mix of communal, recreational and clinical spaces to meet the needs of veterans and their families.
The centre is part of a $43.2 million investment by the Australian Government in a network of Wellbeing Centres across the country.
"I would dearly love to see the wellbeing program expanding and that is one of my aims and priorities," Mr Gee said.
"The men and women of the ADF are Australia's best and they give us their best and in return Australia has to give ADF personnel, veterans and families its best and that means providing the very best possible facilities for them.
"This wellbeing centre is part of that and is something everyone should be very proud of."
The facility has been carefully designed to include a mix of communal, recreational and clinical spaces to meet the needs of veterans and their families.
Mr Gee said veteran care and welfare was something the country had tried to get on top of.
"But I don't think we have ever really got there, but I do think we are on the road," he said.
"When our veterans came home from World War I no one knew what PTSD was - but there is much greater awareness now of veteran issues and veteran care and welfare and these centres are all part of that.
"We as a nation have to get better at looking after veterans and that includes personnel transitioning from the ADF."
We as a nation have to get better at looking after veterans and that includes personnel transitioning from the ADF.Minister for Veterans Affairs and Defence Personnel Andrew Gee
RSL LifeCare director and navy veteran Trevor Robertson said the centre is the result of significant planning and consultation with local ex-service organisations and the veteran community to "deliver a one-stop shop for service delivery that is veteran-centric and community driven".
"It will be an essential resource for the community and generations to come. We see this as an incredibly important part of our contribution to the community," Mr Robertson said.
He thanked the Department of Veteran Affairs and the government for its support along with Shoalhaven City Council in its help with the project.
"Moves are already afoot to establish a similar centre in Wagga Wagga," he said.
"It is essential we acknowledge we have had a wonderful start with support when we kicked off the wellness centre in a temporary location last year. And we've already had huge success so far."
RSL NSW president Ray James said the league has seen an increased need for support services.
"That will no doubt continue this year with the pressure of COVID-19 restrictions and the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide and the ADF's withdrawal from Afghanistan," he said.
"There are 21 sub branches in this local area - the RSL is about looking after veterans and their families everywhere. That's what we do.
"We need these centres as a hub so veterans can gather together. We need to work with ESOs (Ex-Service Organisations) - yes the RSL has been around for 105 years, we all need to work together to look after all veterans and families."
He said while the RSL "might have taken its eye off the ball over the years for veterans" he felt the veterans centres were "a step in the right direction."
The Patterson Building Group will be undertaking construction, with work scheduled to start next week with the building expected to be completed by the middle of the year.
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