Vets Fear Embarrassment Over 'Americanised' Treatment on Planes
Plans to honour defence veterans on airlines have elicited mixed reactions from ex-service members, with some praising the recognition while others say it could be "embarrassing".
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week announced, with much fanfare, a plan to issue special lapel pins to help identify military veterans. Accompanying that initiative was a hope that businesses would offer discounts or other special treatment for those who have served their country.
The government also committed nearly $500 million for the redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Virgin Australia became the first major adopter of the lapel pin idea, spruiking plans to grant priority boarding for veterans, as well as recognising passengers in onboard announcements.
Veterans and ex-service groups contacted by 10 daily gave mixed feedback on the plan. Politicians have rubbished the plan, while Virgin has already flagged the possibility it will back down on the idea after backlash from the armed services community.
"We don't want to hold ourselves up as above anyone else," said William Roberts, president of the Vietnam Veterans Federation of Australia.
He told 10 daily some veterans would find the idea of being publicly recognised as "embarrassing".
"We don't want to go overboard like the Americans have."
Kevin Ryan, a retired peacekeeper who served 22 years in various overseas missions, said the airline recognition was a "good idea" but feared some veterans would not appreciate being singled out.
"If you've got a veteran on holidays, the last thing they'd want is to go on the plane and the captain to announce it and everyone clap, because there might be some nutbag who doesn't like veterans and wants to have a go at him," he told 10 daily.
"A lot of veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress. The last thing I want is someone to come up behind me, tap me on the shoulder and want to shake my hand. I just want to sit down and read my book."
"It’s very Americanised. It's nice to be appreciated, but as a retired veteran, having the whole world announce I’m onboard, I don't want that. Let me go to the head of the line, then let me get off."
Mat Jones, CEO of support service Soldier On, said he backed the government's recent moves to better recognise veterans, but that more attention should be paid to tangible programs that help military employees.
"Any support or acknowledgement for issues facing veterans is a very good thing. It's a wonderful step, but there's probably ways of doing that more tangibly," he told 10 daily.
"It would be great for the government to collaborate with us and others on some programs. We can't do everything ourselves."
"When these announcement are made, we'd hope they are done in collaboration with the veterans' community. There's always more scope for collaboration between the government and ex-service community. We're all after the same outcome."
NSW RSL president James Brown -- son-in-law to former PM Malcolm Turnbull -- has derided the plan, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said veterans would find the public recognition "embarrassing", while even veterans' affairs minister Darren Chester acknowledged some would not want to take up such an offer.
"Australians, by nature, tend to keep their light under a bushel, so I think some of the veterans would be happy to get on a plane without anyone knowing that they're there," he told ABC's Insiders program.
Virgin Australia announced in a series of tweets on Monday that it would review the plan.
But others said the move to recognise veterans, as is common in America, was justified.
"If a major airline wants to say thank you to veterans for their service, it wouldn't worry me at all," John King, interim chairman of the board of directors of the Returned Services League (RSL) and president of the ACT's RSL branch, told 10 daily.
He said that, since airlines already thank groups like frequent flyers or business class passengers, it would not be much effort or disruption to give a quick announcement acknowledging veterans onboard.
"I also believe that if they are to do that, they should mention people like police, SES, fire, ambulance, nurses. But that's what becomes the issue, where do you draw a line," he said.
"It would be a nice thing if the airlines offered a discount or upgrade too."
Sean Farrell is the CEO of Bravery Trust, a charity that provides financial assistance to veterans. He is also a current serving officer in the defence force. Virgin Australia is one of Bravery Trust's corporate partners, and Farrell said the plan to acknowledge veterans could be done tastefully and respectfully.
"We understand there are some people who have served who don't want to be identified as veterans or serving, so this would be a voluntary system that enables those who want to be recognised to go to front of the line for priority boarding, which is a good thing," he told 10 daily.
"But there are those who don't want to stand out from the crowd, because a lot serve their country and don't want to be identified afterwards. This scheme acknowledges that."
Farrell said he had worked with the US military on an exchange program, and had seen how American society regularly honours veterans. He said Australian society was different, but that recognising ex-service personnel in small ways was justified.
"The intention is to allow priority boarding, not the American system of applauding people for their service. The culture in Australia is very different and a lot of Australians will not want to be identified or thanked," he said.
"Our understanding is it's just a gesture for people who have served to take advantage of, and we think that's a good way to recognise their service."