John Bale, CEO and Co-Founder of Soldier On, Speech at Official Opening of the Michael Fussell Reintegration and Recovery Centre

Your Excellency and Mrs Hurley, The Fussell family represented by Ken and Dan Fussell, Madeline Fussell sends her regrets but is currently in Nauru. Veterans and their families, serving and ex-serving.  NSW Minister for Veterans Affairs; the Hon David Elliott MP — Member for Drummoyne — Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Roads, Industry, Resources and Energy – John Sidoti. Major General Gus Gilmore, Commander Forces Command, our ambassador Al Sparkes Cross of Valour. Our national corporate sponsors represented here today, Chairman of Defence Housing Australia, The Hon Sandy Macdonald, National Environmental Health and Safety Manager at Northrop Grumman Australia, Gary Lucas, Caputre Manager Logistics & Modernization at Northrop Grumman Ellen Moore, out from their US Headquarters in Washington DC , Chief Executive Officer of Fujitsu Australia, Mike Foster and John Coleman from Thales Australia. Our partners in providing colloborative services to our veteran community and their families we welcome the Chief Executive Officer of Legacy NSW John Hutcheson, President of War Widows Guild NSW Rhondda Vanzella, Concord and District RSL Sub-Branch President – Len Costelow, Secretary, Robert Turner and Vice Presidents, John Younie and Alex Gathercole,

Acting Area Manager for Sydney/Liverpool for the Defence Community Organisation, Jill Elliot, Melissa Quirk  from Pinups with a Cause and OJ Rushton from the RSL Rural Commemorative Youth Choir.

Welcome also to Rachel Charles – Partner at Ernst & Young and the EY team.

And lastly I would like to thank Dr Tim Sinclair – General Manager of Concord Repatriation General Hospital, without the support of which we would not be here today and would not be able to talk about the exciting future that this opening heralds.

Again, everyone thank you all for being here.

As many of you would know today is World Mental Health Day, and it is therefore very appropriate that not only our Co-patrons, His Excellency General Hurley and Mrs Hurley, with Ken and Dan Fussell officially open this centre, but that I also highlight Soldier On’s focus on service delivery, and specifically mention the mental health support that we are offering in each of our centres including here at the Michael Fussell, Re-integration and Recovery Centre.

Soldier On is focused on helping veterans overcome any impacts from their service and build successful futures. We believe it is important to support all veterans impacted. Some may be impacted because they are finding their experience is hard to translate to a skill set looked favourably upon by Australian industry, while others may be impacted because they have a mental injury, such as PTSD, social alienation, anxiety and depression from their service to Australia.

By being proactive and by focusing on early intervention means we believe we will be able to stop veterans being further impacted in their and their families futures.

To achieve these aims Soldier On has become a service delivery veteran support organisation and has three broad service lines, we provide transition support; that is employment, volunteering and education opportunities for veterans and their families. Mental health support through psychologists who are based or soon to be based in all of our centers, including Currumbin on the Gold Coast, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and now here at Concord Hospital.

Finally, the service we are best known for, and that is our social connectedness programs. Allowing veterans and their families to connect through coffee catch-ups, men’s, women’s and family weekends and a sports recovery program in partnership with Surfing Australia, Golf Australia, the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club, Greater Western Sydney Giants, Wests Tigers and other sporting peak bodies and clubs. Together this provides a holistic service for the veteran and the family. To support them by having a strong network of friends and likeminded people, to give them mental health support and to ensure that all our programs are evidence base while they are provided opportunities for employment or volunteering roles that recognise their attributes and qualities.

Our movement to a service delivery organisation for veterans and their families impacted by their service, is best epitomised by the two new employed psychologists that are based at the Michael Fussell centre. They are soon to be joined by a recently recruited transition support officer. These new members of staff dramatically increase our service delivery capability and add to the four other amazing staff that we have already here that help build our social connectedness programs and provide outreach to veterans and families.

Besides our psychologists caring for ex-serving veterans and families, they are approved to provide these services through Garrison Health Services, ensuring we are also supporting serving members and their families.

We have moved to service delivery, and specifically to providing mental health support because we saw there was a gap. This gap was a wraparound support to the veteran and the family, by the community, especially once they had left the ADF. Although the ADF and DVA provide mental health support, it is this full ecosystem that we are providing, in a collaborative framework, which complements the work done by the ADF and DVA.

It is this collaborative and wrap around service delivery model which led us to Concord hospital in the first place. Since 2014 Concord Repatriation General Hospital has been working on a national centre of excellence for the clinical care of veterans and the families. We are honoured to partner with Concord in this endeavor, which will see a centre for veterans and their families that has no equal in Australia, and will be on the same level as Walter Reed in the United States and Headly Court in the United Kingdom. The General Manger of Concord will talk more on this exciting initiative and what it means for veterans later.

To ensure veteran support and family support is centered on them, we are also working closely with other veteran support and ex-service organisations to collaborate; like Legacy NSW, RSL DefenceCare and a large number of RSL sub-branches like our friends here today from Concord RSL Sub-branch and many others. This ensures a better level of support, a more coordinated level of support, for those that have done so much for us.

It is an especially proud element that these services are being offered in NSW and this centre, named after my mate Michael Fussell. It was his death, and the lack of a community organisation that supported those physically and psychologically impacted from their service which resulted in us starting Soldier On. I have a quote on my door at work which sums up my feelings about Michael and the work of Soldier On:

“On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.”  Henry David Thoreau

It is now my honour to ask our Co-Patron in Chief and Governor of NSW, His Excellency the Honorable General Hurley to make an address before formally opening the Michael Fussell Centre. Your Excellency.