Today is Poppy Day.

The annual RSA Poppy Appeal has been part of the New Zealand calendar for almost a century.

It is well known as that time of the year when Kiwis wear a poppy and remember the many returned servicemen and women who have proudly represented New Zealand in conflicts far and wide.

But it is about so much more than remembrance.

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The Poppy Appeal funds are how the RSA is able to support veterans and their families, regardless of whether they are RSA members or not.

Today, the needs and numbers have never been greater.

New Zealand has 41,000 veterans - the most since the end of World War II. Three-quarters have served in operations since Vietnam in places such as East Timor, Bosnia, Bougainville, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many more have served in the military in New Zealand and been engaged in a wide range of service for their country.

All these people carry the scars of their service.

The needs of the modern-day veteran are significant. These include the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Illness (PTSI) and other conditions brought on by service, together with support with transitioning to civilian life or financial aid in times of hardship.

The needs of New Zealand's 41,000 veterans and their families, regardless of whether they are RSA members or not, have never been greater, says Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association national president BJ Clark. Photo / Supplied
The needs of New Zealand's 41,000 veterans and their families, regardless of whether they are RSA members or not, have never been greater, says Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association national president BJ Clark. Photo / Supplied

The experiences our military personnel are exposed to during service can result in mental, physical and emotional harm.

Servicemen and women are often faced with high-pressure, volatile and dangerous situations while on deployment, and returning to "normal" civilian life can be tough.

Those who have served domestically are still impacted by the rigours of service and the dramatic difference in lifestyle.

The effects of service are felt differently by everyone, and support and rehabilitation is needed to overcome and deal with these injuries.

We need your help so that we can keep doing what we do best - help.

Together with RSA clubs up and down the country, our nationwide network of support service officers help to meet the growing needs of veterans and their loved ones.

The staunch attitude of many servicemen and women can lead to many being reluctant to ask for help. It is ironic that some choose to "soldier on" but we want our people to seek our support.

We keep a register of all the people that Poppy funds help throughout the year. Many recipients are keen to tell their stories in order to encourage their peers to seek similar support.

In one case, the partner of a currently serving soldier was helped in her own medical recovery. The Poppy funds also helped her become a mother through a contribution to fertility treatment. In a military environment in which life is constantly under threat, it was an extraordinary opportunity to help create new life within a serviceman's family.

In another heart-warming case, several RSA clubs from throughout Canterbury put their own Poppy funds towards helping their mates at the Kaikoura RSA who were affected by the November earthquake.

After battling cancer, a brain tumour and knee injuries, one ex-serviceman received the money he needed to replace the unsafe steps on which he had previously been injured.

Another returned soldier suffering from terminal cancer was granted the funds he needed to make him debt-free before he died.

Several RSA clubs collaborated to put their poppy funds towards buying an insulin pump and blood testing equipment to significantly enhance the quality of life of the diabetic daughter of a currently serving soldier.

Poppy funds have also helped pay for tuition fees for a serviceman's child; a support dog for a veteran suffering from PTSI; a new sports wheelchair for a tetraplegic ex-serviceman, and the list goes on.

They are just some of those who have been supported by generous Kiwis who make a donation to the Poppy Appeal.

Many, many more stories of support exist at local level where funds collected in your community go to help those returned servicemen and women who live nearby.

Your donations to this year's Poppy Appeal will help people just like the recipients described here.

Please remember to care this Poppy Day. Lest we forget.

• BJ Clark is the national president of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RNZRSA).