VETERANS 360 charity founder Jay Devereux says Anzac Day crowds must remember the ranks of homeless, drug and alcohol-affected, and often suicidal, former members of the defence forces.
“The literature says it’s five to 12 years after conflicts that we get the critical mass of those who fall away from society. We are now two years into that, and we have already dealt with almost 200 veterans and their families since October 2015,” Mr Devereux said.
The former senior officer at the Reserve Bank of Australia had his own breakdown, mental illness, homelessness for nine months, and drug and alcohol abuse from 2003 to 2005.
He now operates Morley-based Veterans 360, running two homes for crisis and medium-term veterans’ housing in the Bayswater area.
His network of former and serving ADF members use Facebook, personal contacts and other charities to find homeless veterans across Perth and Australia.
In Perth, Mr Devereux’s “assertive outreach” often brings results, such as the night on April 27, 2015 he spent finding a former SAS soldier in Fremantle, before making contact with a man fitting the description near St Patrick’s Church the following morning.
He subsequently accepted the offer of help from V360.
“I knew then and there it was him because in the next two minutes, as he walked away, not once did he look back over his shoulder,” Mr Devereux said.
The man, one of the regiment’s most highly regarded, was on the streets after a mental breakdown but after being housed by mates, given counselling and reconnecting to his family, he now has a new life in the eastern states.
After World War I, the RSL’s predecessor would find trench survivors on the streets and give them food and blankets and hostel accommodation.
Mr Devereux said his priority was accommodation because families report that their veteran members who have committed suicide were usually homeless the previous year.
“65 per cent of homeless people think about suicide, 27 per cent attempt it, and the remainder succeed,” Mr Devereux said.
He said while younger veterans’ issues were now better understood and there were better connections between veterans’ groups, counsellors and hospitals, it had prompted him to ask why governments were not better prepared when the end of recent conflicts were known for years.