He is just one of 300 veterans who leave the ADF each year who find themselves homeless.
For many, the transition back to civilian life may be the biggest hurdle, and leaders are now calling for more to be done.
“If the veteran can’t get a job, it can create financial hardship, this can affect the home and cause relationship problems,” said Chris Gray, executive general manager of Vasey RSL Care. Weekend Today.
“If the family is separated, the veteran may stay on a partner’s couch or even sleep in their car. Ultimately, this situation can bring to light latent mental health issues or lead to problems with drinking, gambling, etc.”.
Hughes and his close friend, Alan Murphy, help veterans who find themselves in the same difficult position.
“I started couch surfing, staying at friends’ and family’s houses. I ended up sleeping in creek beds for almost a year,” Hughes said.
Murphy is a veteran of the Vietnam War and spent more than 500 days on two tours in Vietnam.
He now lives in assisted living among dozens of ex-veterans.
“The next day I was a civilian. All I had was a piece of paper that said the discharge certificate. And that was it,” he said.
“I see these young people coming off the street and I see how hard and what they’ve been through.”
Raising your hand and seeking help can also be a hard pill to swallow for many.
Keith Walsh spent nearly five years without a home, sleeping most nights in his car.
“It has gone from having support, unlimited support. You have to fend for yourself,” he said.
Walsh eventually contacted VaseyRSL, a leading ex-service hosting provider.
“If it wasn’t for Vasey, I would be dead by now,” he said.
“It has given me a purpose to continue.”
VaseyRSL is a critical source of information for leaving the ADF, who is in need of not only emergency housing but also assistance in returning to civilian life.
The charity now hopes to build the industry’s first one-stop service in Ivanhoe, a northern suburb of Melbourne.
“There are a lot of different supports, but we’re talking about a home and services,” Executive Director Janna Voloshin said.
“We are going to put a roof over them, get them off the streets and then assist them with whatever they need to get to a stage where they can live independently.”
It’s a solution that young veterans like Damon Valentine are desperately asking for.
The former army soldier suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and said the discharge process needs to be reformed.
“They need one in every state to do this kind of work. And hopefully this can be the first of at least nine more,” he said.
For a force that prides itself on remembering those who served, many say they feel forgotten.
The Albanian government says it is committing millions to fund specialized services for veterans and families, but the opposition stands in the way.
“We are establishing our $10 billion Housing for Australia’s Future Fund and from that there will be a $30 million fund specifically for homeless veterans,” Veterans Affairs Minister Matt Keogh said.
“But that whole program is currently at risk because the opposition opposes the establishment of that fund.”
While the future of the fund is in the hands of those in Canberra, the veterans say they need assistance now.
“Everything helps. If you have problems, you can get food here. You can get medical care here … just having someone to talk to,” Hughes said.
The 24-hour Advocacy Support Line can be reached on 1800 628 036 and the Advocacy Helpline for Relatives and Members on 1800 624 608
Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counseling can be reached on 1800 011 046.