Will 2022 be the Year New Zealand finally joins up the dots for our Veterans?

Line of Defence Magazine - Summer 2021/22

Marty Donoghue
Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association CEO Marty Donoghue.

Jennie Vickers sat down recently with RSA CEO Marty Donoghue to talk about the RSA’s ambitions for better industry engagement in 2022. A selection of questions and answers follows.

JV: What are the moments of 2021 which make you excited about joining the dots in 2022?

MD: Tough question because despite the challenging year, we have been progressing on a number of fronts. 

But… I want to start with exciting and very relevant news. Just last week we received an update about one of our Invictus family, Nu Filo. He has been competing  and representing New Zealand at the World Para Powerlifting Championships held last week in Tbilisi Georgia. 

Nu messaged us to say: “Sunday went well with two PBs of 140kg and 150kg in the Para-Bench (Powerlifting PB is 166kg). I finished 16th from 20 in the World which is ok for the biggest competition I have been to. Today it’s back to the gym again working towards another PB and the Commonwealth Games 2022.” 

Nu is a former New Zealand Army Soldier who lost a leg in a training accident in Waiouru in 2006. Nu re-trained as an IT analyst, worked into an IT role with Government and has thrown himself into his sport. Nu got to Tbilisi with support from RSA, from the Auckland RSA and from KPMG. He is the embodiment of a 21stCentury kiwi veteran,  working through adversity, re-training for a new profession and then being ‘the change we want to see in the world’ as an Invictus medallist and now on a World sporting stage. 

When we join the dots in 2022, we will see more people like Nu transitioning from service to industry, wrapped around with support and allowing them to succeed in a second career and go on to achieve personal goals and satisfaction. 

As to the other projects for 2022, the first priority is working with, and receiving funding from Government to make our district support services available for all veterans and the best they can possibly be. This funding, has been a long time coming, but I believe making it happen will make perfect sense to the Minister of Veterans, Meka Whaitiri. 

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RSA has a committed District support services Team but, like any other team they will deliver more, excel more and acheive more,  in a shorter time, if they are given more resources, more training and more opportunities to join those dots.  At the moment the RSA, as a combination of National Office and the branches, funds this work from donations, which makes no sense when we have a Government committed to resolving social and other inequalities for all Kiwis.

On the same day that Nu announced his personal success, the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission released their Te Rau Tira Welllbeing Outcomes Report 2021. Te Rau Tira introduces their vision to improve wellbeing for communities in Aotearoa New Zealand. Recognising the challenges faced by veterans (among others) their press release says in the opening paragraphs:

“Most marginalised groups, such as young people, veterans, rainbow communities, Māori, Pacific peoples, former refugees and migrants, children in state care, older people, rural communities, disabled people, prisoners, and children experiencing adverse childhood events, looked at, felt life is less worthwhile, and reported less security, poorer mental and overall health, and greater discrimination and barriers to wellbeing.” 

The men and women who served and continue to serve, our country and our global allies, should not still appear in lists of marginalised groups. Let 2022 be the year of shift. So making real progress in supporting veterans achieve good mental health, is a high priority.

JV: Do you see 2022 as a year of progress in working more closely with other nations?

MD: Absolutely. While lockdowns kept us locked up, we used Teams to reach out and start accelerating relationships with our network of veteran support agencies across the World. 

We are particularly excited to be engaging more with SoldierOn in Australia, for example, which makes perfect sense. All year we have been seeing the return to New Zealand of veterans who have spent time in Australia since leaving service.

Often needing to re-establish or even build totally new networks, in the early months they need a lot of help and the RSA is, and should be, the place they come to for help. Once established they can take their place, carving their own way. Sadly this has not always been the case over the past years and we are working to change that. 

New Zealand is grappling with skills shortages so we should be seeing every single veteran returnee as one more quality addition to a different workforce. 

With a closer relationship with SoldierOn we can envision career pathways for New Zealand which start in Australia with training and other support, so coming home includes job opportunities and a lot more joining the dots.

Looking further afield we have much to learn from the US, for example. The support by Government and by industry in the US for Veterans provides a model we should copy and which they are very keen to share. 

The Fortinet Fortivet Programme (which you have shown to us) is a perfect example of how support of industry for veterans, joins the dots. The Fortinet Academy Program give Veterans access to free training , mentoring and job opportunities and industry gets more skilled people to help towards the three million security professional deficit. This is just one of many examples, and with US large tech companies being major players in NZ we just need to copy, not re-invent.

JV: What advice do you have for NZ businesses looking to improve their track record of delivering broader outcomes to their Government and private sector customers?

MD: KPMG has recently published a useful report for their clients called “Social Procurement  Tackling the practical realities”. They note in their report that Supply Nation Australia research, showed that for every $1 spent, the social return on Investment was an average of $4.41. 

KPMG’s support of Nu so he could go to the World Championships, is just one of many KPMG investments in our people who are needing a bit of help. These sorts of successful investments we are seeing from many companies, the length and breadth of new Zealand and we want to see more in 2022.

RSA is chomping at the bit to work with more businesses to identify and fund projects, which will help them find more ex-Defence talent, create opportunities to demonstrably bring broader outcomes to the table and then deliver the sorts of employee wellbeing uplifts beneficial for everyone in their organisation.

JV: In my work with the Defence Sector in New Zealand and Australia, the people I meet called veterans all seem more like you and me than my granddad. Are we going to see change in 2022 in the definition of veteran and the perception of whom the RSA should serve?

MD: The reality still is that there are over 40,000 kiwi veterans who served in and around the 90s who are classified by the Veteran Support Act as veterans. But there are many others who served but by quirk of fate have been deemed to not have been in an operational area and therefore who fail to satisfy a definition put in place by bureaucrats.

We have many examples including veterans who have served for 40 years, many at sea but who do not tick the definition box. This is mad and has to change. The work completed by the Veterans Advisory Board needs to be seen through to an end state, we can’t have legislation discriminate between cohorts of veterans the inequality will come back to haunt us all. Without a definition change Government is failing to deliver good policy outcomes, and we are sure that is not their intention.

JV: Final question is back to the RSA and Industry. What can industry in New Zealand and beyond, do to help the RSA and what can the RSA do to help them?

MD: We absolutely need to work together, and to work with the NZDF. We actually have similar goals and if we work together well, we can get outcomes that deliver to everyone. 

Industry needs well skilled people (ideally with a clearance and relevant training), NZDF needs and wants to ensure that their people leave and go on to support themselves and NZ, and the RSA has the purpose, the connections and the mandate to support people’s transition out to fulfilling lives. 

The phone lines are open and we want to hear from industry with their ideas, with their requests for candidates and their offers of financial support. 

One practical example of an area where industry can jump in and provide support is with the on-base RSA Hubs. In 2022 we will bring the RSA Hubs based on the model seen at Linton, Burnham and Trentham, to Devonport, Ohakea and Whenuapai. I know from reading LoD that there are numerous projects underway at these bases and that many businesses are participating in supply chains and directly contributing to infrastructure builds. 

If every business got involved in some way at the Hub of the base they work in or into, we could transform the experiences of those thinking of transitioning out and those who have already done so.

My niece loves Dad Jokes and this discussion reminds me of one cheesy one: Question: What do you call an apology written in dots and dashes? Answer: Re-Morse code! It really is time we sort out the ridiculous barriers to supporting veterans and focus on success and not remorse in 2022.