• Brendan Nicholson, Defence Editor The Australian, April 25, 2016
Veterans of Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor are questioning whether money spent commemorating World War I — estimated at more than $550 million — could bring on compassion fatigue and reduce the help available to those wounded in more recent ¬operations.
John Bale, the army officer and Afghanistan veteran who founded the military support group Soldier On, writes for The Australian today that the nation has spent more money and resources commemorating WWI than any other country.
To truly acknowledge the sacrifice of past Diggers, instead of building monuments the Anzac -effort needs to be refocused on veterans and their families who are suffering today, Mr Bale says.
Former army chief Peter Leahy backed Mr Bale’s call, saying the nation had to act quickly.
Now director of the National Security Institute at the University of Canberra, Professor Leahy said for some veterans it was already too late.
“They’ve lost their personal battle with despair and ¬depression,” he said. “It’s good for politicians to ¬attend the parades and opening ceremonies but I’d much rather see them right across the country on a regular basis reaching out every day to the veteran community.”
That would help the nation’s decision-makers gauge the extent of the depression, despair, homelessness, broken relationships, ¬imprisonment and suicide.
Mr Bale asks if the money has been spent wisely and suggests that Australia has missed an -opportunity to engage the community in creating a lasting legacy from the sacrifices of so long ago.
Younger veterans from ¬Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor and other conflicts are struggling to find their place in the Anzac tradition. “Worse, many veterans are not reintegrating back into our community after these conflicts, while some cannot shake off the trauma of what they experienced,’’ Mr Bale says.
“Most Australians feel after last year’s Gallipoli commemorations that the Anzac centenary is over. They have paid their respects and they have moved on.
“An apathy has grown around the continuing centenary of the World War I battles and contemporary veterans and their families are the losers.”
He says veterans and their families are struggling with physical and psychological issues while millions of dollars are being spent on memorials to World War I.
“Commemoration must be more than ceremony,’’ Mr Bale says.
“Its real value lies in a renewed commitment to enduring values.’’
“The best way to refocus the centenary of Anzac is to link it to support for those who have most recently served.
“Plainly, there is little point in vast expenditure to boost our knowledge of military history if we fail to support those who keep the Anzac tradition alive today: the people who put on uniforms and still go out into danger.’’
Figures compiled by the Honest History website last year put government spending on the commemoration at more than $470m from government and $80m from the private sector.