A Merimbula man is frustrated by the lack of response from large Australian companies after his pleas for support were ignored.
John Verhelst is a Vietnam veteran who served with the Australian Army as a conscript during a 10-month period from 1970 to 1971. He is also the president of the association Head-Quarters 1st Australian Task Force (HQ1ATF) which was based at Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy Province from 1966 until late 1971.
Every two years since the late 90s HQ1ATF has held a reunion somewhere in Australia – their 2012 reunion was held in Merimbula.
Plans are already underway for this year’s reunion - which will also mark the Task Force’s 50th anniversary – to be held on October 13-17 in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast.
They are anticipating about 120 veterans along with many spouses to attend.
“The reunion is an important part of our association’s efforts in the healing process which is achieved through the continual networking of members and also importantly their partners and carers,” Mr Verhelst said. “With objectives to improve health and wellbeing and to reduce social isolation, the reunion plays a significant role.”
“Many of our members, all now in their late 60s, 70s and 80s, have not fared well, especially in the past 10 years or so when their health and consequential financial situations are suffering.”
With a large proportion of the organisation’s members living in poverty, Mr Verhelst sought sponsorship for the reunion.
In October 2015, he sent more than 220 letters to companies, only receiving sponsorship from Dick Smith and a catering company in Melbourne.
“I do understand that companies are inundated with financial sponsorship requests however I do feel we are forgotten or in many cases the decision makers probably have no idea what we went through,” he said.
“Many of the members, including myself suffer from PTSD, and these reunions are a way for us to be with people who really understand not only what happened during the war but also the battles we’ve faced since.”
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