A Wagga ex-serviceman has cautioned against singling out veterans on flights and raised concerns over a new discount initiative for those who have served.
In the wake of Virgin’s plan to honour Australian war veterans on its flights, and pressure on Qantas to do the same, the acting president of the Wagga RSL Sub-Branch Richard Salcole said airlines need to make sure they are not naming veterans.
“Veterans with mental health issues are going to struggle to fly as it is without the added spotlight,” he said.
“You can, however, announce ‘we just want to welcome and thank all veterans’ which would be a considerate acknowledgement.”
Recently, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Veterans Card Initiative and lapel pin.
“What this is about is businesses honouring the services by offering them a discount,” he said.
“Now we’re putting the details in place over the back of this year and it will be out and running next year and it means veterans will have a card which will entitle them to discounts and services.”
Mr Salcole said in 1989 the Defcon Card was introduced as a loyalty program offering discounts ex-serviceman and it is still active today.
“So you have the fact that this is still running and now it is being overshadowed,” he said. “Regional towns and cities might not be able to support this.
“The smaller businesses or the smaller towns that don't have a big Woollies won’t be able to get on board because there is revenue out of their pocket in tough times.”
Instead, Mr Salcole said he hopes to see more support for given to veterans looking for a job or accessing medical services.
“We need to make sure health professionals are asking ‘have you served’ as some won’t say they did,” he said. “The question needs to be asked so they receive the proper care.
“There is also still a lot to be done to help the people getting out to find a job.”
Virgin Australia has since released a statement following the backlash.
“Over the coming months, we will consult with community groups and our own team members who have served in defence to determine the best way forward,” the statement read.
“If this process determines that public acknowledgement of their service through optional priority boarding or any announcement is not appropriate, then we will certainly be respectful of that.”
Kevin Kerr, squadron leader (retired), said he thinks airlines should recognise the men in uniform.
“I experienced that in Dallas and I was quite impressed and I thanked them very much,” he said.
Mr Kerr was short during an exercise but receives no “fringe benefits” as it didn’t happen on duty and hopes to see more help given to ex-servicemen like himself with the Veterans Card Initiative.