BALLARAT veterans looking for face-to-face support will soon have to find it at Centrelink, with the federal government yesterday confirming the closure of the Veterans’ Affairs Network (VAN) office in Dawson Street.
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson said the Ballarat VAN would close and be “co-located” into the Centrelink office at 4/12 Albert Street, as part of changes to shopfront services in nine regional areas in Victoria and NSW.
He said a Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) staff member would continue to provide the same services from the new location.
The announcement comes after the federal government announced a review of regional DVA shopfronts last month, sparking fears the Ballarat service was poised to close.
Department of Veterans’ deputy commissioner of Victoria John Geary yesterday said the lease on the Ballarat office, in Dawson Street, expired on June 30 but it would not close until adequate arrangements were in place to transfer the existing staff member to Centrelink.
“We’re still working through the fine details with DHS management,” Mr Geary said.
“We’ll try to have a separate queuing system if we can.
“We’ll have our own DVA staff member in the office.”
Until recently, two staff members worked from Ballarat’s VAN shopfront but Mr Geary said one person, responsible for providing outreach services, had left and the position had not been filled.
Under the new arrangements, outreach services will be covered by Melbourne-based staff.
Mr Geary said DVA representatives consulted with Ballarat veterans’ groups last month and they would meet again after Easter to run through the changes.
A ‘demographic shift’ and declining visits to VAN shopfronts has been blamed for the closure of the office.
Mr Geary said the Ballarat office currently received about four counter visits daily.
But Ballarat MP Catherine King said the loss of the facility was a blow to veterans.
“Veterans who have all served our country with honour and distinction deserve to have personalised and dedicated local facilities and services,” she said. “Since the government announced its ‘consultation’ over the future of veterans’ offices, over 60 members of our community – including local veterans – have signed a petition in my office calling on the local DVA office to be maintained.”
Senator Ronaldson said the government was committed to a standalone DVA.
“These changes will ensure that DVA can continue to offer services to veterans and their families for the long-term,” he said.