Pennie’s sons said the medals on their chests belonged to their mum. They were laughed at.

Video via SBS

 

In March 2015, I was medically discharged from the Army with no support and no home for my family. After three months of being separated from my biggest supporter, my husband, while we waited for our home to be finished, we were all finally reunited but I was more broken than before.

With no continuity of care, no psychological or medical support post discharge, my symptoms, and medical issues had increased to more than I could handle or hide anymore. My DVA claim had been rejected and I had to start the process again, so I turned to the one place I thought could help me – the RSL.

I had been around the RSL throughout my childhood as my grandma, Patricia Logar OAM, had been strongly involved in her local sub branch in Gawler, South Australia. It was what I thought I knew. I was wrong. I was wrong because when I reached out for help, I was disregarded in a way that was disrespectful and intimidating.

Instead of the offer of help and linking me to the support I needed, I was offered to join the Women’s Auxiliary and help fundraise for the sub branch. Although these women do an amazing job, it was not at all what I needed and it showed that the RSL didn’t respect the fact that I too had served.

Pennie Looker. Image via ABC.
Pennie Looker. Image via ABC.

My husband made me believe that I was worth fighting for and I continued to look for support. I found the Women Veterans’ Network and linked in with so many women veterans from the safety of my home. Through this network, I attended an information session where I met some amazing men from another sub branch.

They saw that I needed help and they offered it. Not only did they offer it, but they let me vent at how horrible it felt to have my service disregarded by another sub branch. I became a member of the sub branch, even though it is an hour drive away. The people at the Nelson Bay sub branch were accepting and supportive and that is exactly what I needed.

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We need the RSL sub branches to be educated. They need to understand that women serve in so many aspects of defence now. Our children seem to understand this better than the RSL, who should be there to support us. Last ANZAC Day, my boys wore miniatures of my medals to their service at school. Representatives from another RSL Sub Branch were attending and pulled my boys to the front to ask the school who’s medals they could possibly be wearing.

The children all called out “their mum's”. The men at the front laughed it off and asked them again: “No, who could they possibly belong to?” I was there the whole time. It took the principal, teachers, and students to point out that I, in fact, am a veteran and those medals are mine.

The then CEO of RSL NSW, Glenn Kolomeitz, reached out to me to offer his apologies for what had happened. He asked me to come and meet with him to discuss what the RSL could do better. We met and made plans. I had his full support and he offered his full support to the Women Veterans’ Network as well.

He spoke of the need for change and how we as veterans needed to be a part of this change, which is what led to me nominating myself for a position in the NSW State Council Elections. He gave me hope that by being a part of this, we can make a change for the better and get back to what the RSL should be doing.

The election process was strange. I completed the nomination form and that was it. No notice to say it had been accepted so I didn’t know until the ballot papers came out. I wasn’t allowed to promote myself or talk to the sub branches to gain their confidence in me, so I was going in as an unknown. I attended the meeting in Albury and the response I got was quite overwhelming.

Many people came and told me they wished they had of known who I was prior to the election as all they saw was my name and for most of the time leading up, the website with my biography was offline. Needless to say, I was unsuccessful but we did have some wins. We did have a female elected. We did have several new and younger veterans elected and we had a new president elected. All very keen to see change. Each of these newly elected people are a positive step in the direction of change for the RSL.

Hopefully, by bringing change, we can ensure that the RSL comes back to what it was created for; supporting veterans and their families. Hopefully, this means the end of female veterans being questioned about their medals or their service. Hopefully, this is not the end of the RSL, but a new beginning with a new focus. To make the change happen, we need to be a part of the change.

Pennie and others share their perspectives on whether our soldiers are equipped for the transition to everyday life on this week’s Insight, Tuesday at 8.30pm on SBS.

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