Coffs Coast war widows and veterans let down as government-funded care service lapses

Federal Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan is supporting Trevor Williams’ efforts to get the Veterans Home Care service back in action in Coffs Harbour.

“ABSOLUTELY poor show DVA.”

This is how Trevor Williams, an advocate for issues affecting veterans and war widows, describes the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ recent handling of the Veterans Home Care (VHC) service.

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Currently the cleaning and care service is not being provided to many in need on the Coffs Coast, having stopped on 30 November 2023 at the end of the former contractor’s agreement.

A new contractor has been appointed but they are Sydney-based and have no staff on the ground in Coffs Harbour, according to Trevor.

This means the war widows and veterans who are registered for the service are not having their homes cleaned, are not getting their daily shower, are not getting their bed changed, their washing is not being done and do not have someone helping with their food or chemist shopping.

In late 2022, the former VHC service provider, Park Beach Plaza-based Australian Unity, announced it was not renewing its contract, which gave the DVA twelve months to put the job to tender and have a new provider to take over on 1 December 2023.

Trevor, a legatee for Coffs Harbour Legacy, a director of Legacy Aged Care and Chair of the Legacy Welfare Committee for the Coffs Coast, has lived experience and knowledge of war widows’ and veterans’ needs and vulnerabilities.

Throughout the past year, Trevor has been checking in on any progress the DVA was making on appointing a new contractor and received very little information back.

With Australian Unity’s contract ending on 30 November 2023, he increased pressure to find out what was happening, including calls and emails to Minister for Veterans Matt Keogh, receiving little in the way of a useful response.

As a user of the VHC service himself, Trevor got a phone call on 30 November from an agency stating that they were his new provider.

He told them he wouldn’t accept a new provider until they had set up with all the war widows and veterans across Coffs Harbour.

“I also asked them how they were going to provide the service and they told me ‘we haven’t got any staff yet we’re just getting the clients and then we’ll sort that out’.

“They also told me they’d had nothing to do with DVA before and only received one day’s training for the veterans’ service.

“Even if they appoint cleaners today it’s going to take two to four weeks to set up the dates and start servicing.”

Trevor is outraged that the service has been allowed to lapse in this manner.

“Can you imagine leading up to Christmas, you take away the person who’s been cleaning their house or showering them or coming and doing their meals and you say you’re going to put in someone new to them, but you don’t know when.”

For some, the VHC may be their only regular contact with people from outside their home.

Trevor is particularly concerned about how this is affecting the morale of widows and veterans in the lead up to Christmas.

“I’ve been in this field for more than 20 years and I’ve got an understanding about how people are affected by this kind of change.

“To do this to people right on Christmas is so unfair.

“Can you imagine a grandmother feeling like she cannot bring her family to her home because it’s not been cleaned for three weeks, and the washing has piled up and her bed’s not been changed for a month?”

Trevor’s next-door neighbour for the past 20 years is a war widow receiving support through the VHC.

She was due for a clean last week; she didn’t get it and she can’t do it herself.

“People in this situation feel bad within themselves,” said Trevor.

“It’s humiliating for them.”

Frustrated by the lack of action by the DVA, Trevor sent an email to Minister Keogh on the Friday before Remembrance Day, saying, “You all stand up there tomorrow saying you’re remembering the veterans, but you haven’t got this sorted out.”

The only acceptable outcome, according to Trevor, is that every one of the war widows and veterans is guaranteed a service over Christmas.

“Can Minister Keogh honestly look that 93-year old or 97-year-old war widow in the face and say ‘It’s not important that you get your house cleaned or you get your shower before Christmas’?

“It seems no one can be bothered,” said Trevor.

“Whether it’s a handful or whether it’s 1500 (people) it doesn’t matter, every one of them is important.

“I’ve got seven on my list in Coffs Harbour who have rung me already.

“It should never have happened like this when they had twelve months to sort it out.”

Federal Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan also expressed his disgust in the lack of effective action from the DVA, despite the Minister and his office being notified of the issue over a year ago.

“This has been a completely avoidable slow moving train wreck, and rather than provide our local veterans and Legatees with alternative solutions or offer support, Matt Keogh has chosen to ignore the issue entirely,” said Mr Conaghan.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Matt Keogh told News Of The Area that the Australian Government is “committed to providing the best possible care to Defence personnel, veterans and their families”.

“It is unfortunate some service providers like Australian Unity (based in Park Beach) have chosen not to continue providing Veteran Home Care (VHC) services to veterans, war widows and dependents.

“The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has worked for some months to transition clients to new VHC providers.

“DVA has written to all clients impacted, including those who received services from Australian Unity Home Care, advising that a new provider will be allocated to them, with less than a handful yet to be connected to a new service.

“It is anticipated these clients will have new providers before Christmas.

“Veterans can contact their VHC assessment agencies if they have any further questions or concerns on 1300 550 450.”


Legatee Trevor Williams with Jane Sury of Legacy Coffs Harbour during the organisation’s centenary celebrations.

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