The RSA's annual Poppy Appeal to raise vital funds to support New Zealand's 41,000 veterans and their families was launched today, backed by ambassadors that include former All Black Buck Shelford, current coach Steve Hansen, and filmmaker Sir Peter Jackson.
Recognising and responding to the needs of veterans, especially those members of the military who have served in recent deployments around the world, was a key theme of the national launch of the 2017 Poppy Appeal held in Auckland on Wednesday.
RSA national president BJ Clark said the organisation was responding to a growing need for its support services.
It includes providing a wide range of help to the veterans and their families coping with everything from health impacts, the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Illness (PTSI) and other conditions brought on by service, help with transitioning to civilian life or financial aid in times of hardship.
"New Zealand now has 41,000 veterans - the most at any time since the end of the Second World War," Clark said.
"Many Kiwis would be surprised to learn that nearly three quarters of those veterans served in overseas deployments since the Vietnam War.
"This younger generation of veterans have to deal with many of the same life challenges of those earlier generations of service men and women but perhaps without the understanding of the public that they too had experienced some dangerous, stressful and personally distressing situations in their service for New Zealand."
This year there is a variety of ways for New Zealanders to make a donation throughout the week of the Poppy Appeal - its 95th running, making it New Zealand's oldest continuously run appeal.
The appeal will again culminate in Poppy Day which this year will fall on Friday, April 21, four days before Anzac Day.
The RSA national leadership was joined at the launch by dignitaries, RSA member clubs and also the Poppy Ambassadors, who will help spread the message of the appeal.
This year's ambassadors are: former soldier Tina Grant, former All Blacks and Maori All Blacks captain Buck Shelford, Naval reservist and recording artist Rebecca Nelson, actor and comedian Oscar Kightley, All Blacks coach Steven Hansen and film-maker Sir Peter Jackson.
"Poppy Day is a day we should all remember with a little bit of sadness for those we've lost but also a tremendous amount of pride for the commitment of these people to make our world a better place," said Hansen, who has personal and family connections to the services.
Grant's husband Doug was killed in Afghanistan in 2011 and she says it's critical to care for those who have served and for their families and those left behind, as is the case with the families she deals with in her work for NZDF as liaison officer for Families of the Fallen.
"Looking after our veterans and their families is at the heart of the Poppy Appeal, which is why it is so important to me," she said.
"I know from my own experience and those of the families I work with that there are so many things that people who have returned from service or those families affected by their family member's time overseas that might need help with.
"It's no longer just about the older generations of soldiers either as many of our veterans now are young people not long out of service who have to make big adjustments and sometimes need a bit of a hand.
"Poppy Day also allows us pay tribute to those young people, to the veterans of the last century and to those people just starting their military careers today.
"By wearing a poppy we honour them and by making a donation to the Poppy Appeal we can help take care of them."
RSA chief executive Jack Steer says the longevity of the Poppy Appeal reflects New Zealand's long service to assisting countries near and far in times of conflict, in peace-time missions and other deployments in aid of others.
"While for most of the 20th Century, New Zealanders knew that the Poppy Appeal was a key part of providing support to our former servicemen and women and their dependents, that is not so well understood today," Steer said.
"The Poppy Appeal funds can only be used to provide help and support to those veterans and their families, regardless of whether they are RSA members or not.
"All funds collected by clubs locally are also deployed locally, providing care to those servicemen and women and their families living in your communities."
Members of the public can support the appeal by making a donation to a street appeal collector on April 21.
Donations can also be made at ANZ branches and New Zealand Post branches and on the weekend of April 22 and 23 at Bunnings Warehouse branches across the country.
Z stations throughout the country will also have the special car poppies for sale and there will be a range of digital giving options including text donations (people can contribute $3 by texting POPPY to 4662), or online at: www.rsa.org.nz/donation.