Nowra's strong military connection is being recognised through the town getting one of Australia's first permanent Veterans Wellbeing Centres.
After a temporary centre was established in Nowra last year, the first sod was turned yesterday on a new permanent building in Wallace Street.
Construction work will start next week, with the $5 million centre expected to be completed by the middle of the year.
Veterans Affairs Minister Andrew Gee said the centre would be a hub and "an ecosystem of services" for veterans and defence personnel and their families.
"It will provide, for example, health and wellbeing support for veterans, so there will be health services available here, there'll be support for veterans with Veterans Affairs issues such as veterans claims, there'll be opportunities to socialise here there'll be a coffee shop, a meeting space so veterans and their families can meet."
Mr Gee says the new centre would also focus on helping to deal with the social and mental health issues so prevalent in the veteran community.
"It's part of the solution in terms of providing the best possible care our country can give our veterans and their families - it's all part of that," he said.
"If you look at the history of the Australian armed services - veteran care and welfare is something that the country has tried to get on top of, but I don't think we've ever really got there, but we are on the road.
"There's much greater awareness now of veterans issue and the importance of veterans care and welfare, and I think these centres are all part of that," Mr Gee said.
He described the sod turning as "a momentous day for the defence and veteran community here in Nowra and the surrounding region”.
“RSL LifeCare, with the support of RSL NSW, has been doing a great job running the Nowra Wellbeing Centre out of their temporary premises and has already made a real difference in the lives of current ADF members, ex-service personnel, and their families," Mr Gee said.
“This new, permanent home will take those services to the next level. It will be a place of healing and connection, and a hub for accessing health, education and employment support.
“The facility has been carefully designed with a mix of communal, recreational and clinical spaces to meet the needs of veterans and their families."
Senator for New South Wales and former Major General in the Royal Australian Army, Jim Molan said the new centre was a much needed addition to the region.
“The Nowra Wellbeing Centre will provide critical services to more than 7,000 local veterans and their families in the Shoalhaven and neighbouring local government areas, as well as personnel from nearby HMAS Albatross and HMAS Creswell,” Senator Molan said.
“Being in the military is tough, and life after the military can be difficult to navigate.
"Having local support networks and a place where you can come together with others who are in a similar position is just so important," he said.
RSL LifeCare Board Member and Navy veteran Trevor Robertson said the centre was the result of significant planning and consultation with local ex-service organisations and the veteran community to deliver a one-stop shop that was veteran-centric and community driven.
“The Nowra Veteran Wellbeing Centre will provide critical services to over 7,000 veterans and their families in the Shoalhaven and neighbouring local government areas, including education, health and ADF transition support and it will be an essential resource for the community for generations to come,” Mr Robertson said.
NSW RSL President Ray James said the league had seen an increased need for support services this year and he expected that continue with the pressure of COVID-19 restrictions, the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, and the ADF’s withdrawal from the conflict in Afghanistan last year.
“I take this opportunity to reassure veterans and their families across the Shoalhaven that local support and services are available to them at the Nowra Veteran Wellbeing Centre," he said.
Images: Glenn Ellard