Returned and Services Association is struggling financially due to modernization, says president

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RSA National President Sir Wayne Shelford.
Photo: Supplied / RSA

More money is needed to assist veterans, including those who recently served abroad, according to the Returned and Services Association.

Newly elected President Sir Wayne Shelford said $2 million raised on Poppy Day and other grants received did not go far enough to support more than 30,000 veterans and their families.

As a volunteer organization, the RSA was struggling financially, he said.

The money doesn’t go far. It’s always an uphill battle and that’s the main problem facing the RSA, which is funding.

“We need the money to actually take care of our returning soldiers.”

There was a need for about eight paid, highly trained support workers across the country, he said.

“If we had a few more million dollars a year, I think that would cover a lot of the wages for the additional support staff and things like that and what we have to do at the same time, Veterans’ Affairs needs to look at itself because they are a little slow in determining what is going on with the health and well-being of these people (veterans).”

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‘Refresh’ the RSA

The organization is as relevant today as it was when it was founded in 1916, Sir Wayne said. However, it was important to attract younger veterans.

“Since 1990, we have created approximately 40,000 veterans. People who’ve been in the military, been abroad, been on campaigns, and you know, that’s a lot of people who’ve been abroad over the past 30 years and been in our armed forces.”

“Forty thousand veterans created, but we know only 30,000 receive support. We don’t know where the other 10,000 are.”

Once they left the army, the RSA didn’t know where they were going.

“They become citizens and get involved in civilian life. Many young people forget that the RSA is there to support them.

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“Eventually we will find them. They’re out there. Many of them simply want nothing to do with the military after 20-25 years or even five years. They just go on with their lives.”

The RSA was trying to make it more relevant to younger people who had served, and it had to reinvent itself, Sir Wayne said.

“A lot of younger vets see it (RSA) as for old people, but we don’t, we actually think it’s relevant to them. If you want to go to the RSA with your family, you have to have something for the kids.

“It’s (about) modernizing the RSAs to welcome families.”

The question for members was where they wanted the RSA to be in 10 years, Sir Wayne said.

“Will it look the same as it does now? Well, she’s pretty dated at the moment, you know.’

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“Many of the RSAs are dated in terms of decor, but others have refurbished themselves and have done very well. Some of the modern ones are really nice. That is probably more relevant for younger vets.”

The RSA was slowly establishing itself with small offices staffed by volunteers at defense force bases across the country.

“While the NZDF is there first to assist operating staff, the RSA is there as a backstop if they need help.”

Sir Wayne, better known as a former All Black captain, served in the Royal New Zealand Navy. A high-profile reputation he’s gained over the years may have been a factor in his election as national president, he said.

Sir Wayne believed the RSA had strong public support. “It really only comes once a year with Anzac Day.”