A one-of-a-kind service in Forrestfield helping veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse is closing its doors following the redevelopment of Forrestfield Forum.
Veteran advocate Lester Leaman, who served in the Royal Australian Air Force in Vietnam, said the Men’s Health Peer Education (MHPE) program was established by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1999 after a Vietnam Veterans’ Health Study revealed a higher rate of health issues amongst veterans.
“The service encourages members to share the responsibility for managing their own health and wellbeing,” he said.
“We’ve been extremely lucky to have been operating from the Forrestfield shop for six years with a dedicated group of ex-|service volunteers.
“But we always knew we were on borrowed time and when the Hawaiian Group purchased the Forrestfield Forum, we knew if someone came along, we’d have to vacate.”
In a media statement, Hawaiian said it had supported the MHPE program for more than two years by providing the charity a vacant tenancy at its Forrestfield centre free of charge.
“This support has enabled MHPE to connect with the local community and raise awareness of the important work the organisation does to support the mental health and wellbeing for Australian veterans,” the statement said.
“As a result of the redevelopment of Forrestfield, there are no longer any vacant tenancies. But Hawaiian remains committed to supporting MHPE and has offered them a free pop-up space at Forrestfield and other available tenancies at Hawaiian’s eight other shopping centres.”
Mr Leaman said Hawaiian Group had been very accommodating.
“However, the problem with pop-up shops is when we get someone coming in who is in crisis, it is very difficult to talk to them in the middle of a busy shopping centre,” he said.
“At the moment we are packing everything up while we reassess our situation.
“We are comfortable in this area and we feel it is an area that needs to be serviced.
“We will keep looking for a new space and I am always optimistic someone will come forward with an offer.”
Mr Leaman said the shop’s closure came at a time when demand for help by ex-service people was high.
“This is the only shop of its kind in Australia and we really blazed the trail opening a shop front,” he said.
“We have helped hundreds of people over the years and the statistics we have been keeping prove it has been a very worthwhile service.
“The shop closing is going to cause some problems. We just won’t be around to pick up the people who have said ‘I must send my husband down there’.”
Last year, a Senate inquiry into the mental health of ADF members and veterans found nearly one in four returned soldiers had experienced a mental disorder in the past 12 months and the rate of suicide was double that of the general population.
Call the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service on 1800 011 046 for 24/7 free and confidential Australia-wide counselling and support for veterans and their families.