For the past few years the Veterans Care Association (VCA), based in Brisbane, has been working on front-line veteran rehabilitation, supporting many hundreds of clients and their families.
VCA’s tactical objective is to improve the health and wellbeing of the veterans they engage with daily, but their strategic objective has been to model and improve the systemic way veterans’ health is managed, moving it from the current ‘treating-sickness’ model to a ‘promoting-wellness’ model.
All of the core VCA team are seasoned infantry veterans who have experienced the good and bad of what is currently on offer and they have cobbled together a best practice veteran-friendly service.
Chaplain Gary Stone, a veteran of some 47 years service, (8/9RAR, 6RAR, 1RAR) and his son Michael, a veteran of 20 years service (2RAR, 8/9RAR), lead a group of veteran clinicians and peer-support carers engaging ill and injured veterans in peer support, encouragement, holistic health education, and life coaching.
Gary says veterans are not responding well to the so called ‘gold standard’ of medication and cognitive/exposure therapy.
“At a recent post-traumatic stress conference in Brisbane, it was reported that one-third of veterans are actually getting worse from the clinical treatments they are receiving.
“Yet, all the clients VCA are seeing are making significant improvements, as they open up and respond to fellow veterans, who encourage them.”
VCA currently provides a comprehensive peer-support, health-and-wellbeing education programme, engaging disengaged veterans and educating them about health and wellbeing possibilities and/or getting them into clinical therapy before they become acute cases requiring hospitalisation.
They use a front-line team of chaplains and peer supporters – all very experienced former military officers – and a second-row of doctors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers who advise both staff and clients.
Designed and developed by Michael Stone, VCA’s flagship activity is a nine-month Timor Awakening (TA) rehabilitation program, involving three months preparation, a 12-day immersion in Timor along with Timorese veterans, and a six-month follow-up period.
VCA have conducted five of these programmes with 125 participants and support of 20 veteran-volunteer staff members, and are preparing for two more programmes in 2018.
In Timor they get a ‘mountaintop experience’ – a circuit breaker awakening that their lives can improve – and they find new purpose and identity.
The detailed evaluation data VCA has collected and had externally analysed by clinical psychologists and medical officers, presents solid evidence that the program is significantly reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression in all participants, and improving quality of life.
These results are being sustained over the long term, through regular follow up, and the participation by many participants in ‘life coaching’ offered by veteran Michael Albrecht.
Timor Awakening alumni are engaging and assisting with other organisations, especially RSL, and are making positive contributions to the veteran community and society.
Noteworthy is the case of TA2 participant, 15-year Navy veteran Kerri Howie who has recently given public testimony in the Catholic Leader newspaper of her coming to VCA in a state of deep depression and drug addiction and, after to Timor Awakening, has been rehabilitated and has returned to Timor, walking 160km from Dili to Betano conducting a health clinic in every village en route.
“Im now inspired. I have purpose. I feel alive and I look forward to many opportunities ahead,” Kerri said.
Another significant outcome has been the mutual support given to the Timorese veterans and Government of Timor in progressing veteran support initiatives.
Prime Minister Mari Alkitiri hosted the TA5 group in his office, and heard first hand from VCA staff on what his government could be doing to enhance veteran support.
This occurred simultaneously with the government’s release of a 40-minute documentary on the TA experience that has been shown nationally in Timor.
|VCA has produced two short videos on Youtube, highlighting the Timor Awakening experience.
They are currently working on a professional documentary with interviews of participants.
VCA wishes to continue to offer Timor Awakening experiences.
They have more applicants than they can support, but their capacity for veteran support is significantly diminished by the time and effort they must put into fund raising.
Programmes delivered to date have been made possible largely through the sponsorship of RSL Queensland and RSL Care – now known as Bolton Clarke.
Further sponsorships and donations would be most welcome.
Find out more about Veterans Care Association at www.veteranscare.com.au
Veterans Care Association
Gary Stone served 25 years as an infantry officer in the Army, before ordination as a married Deacon in 1994. Since then he has served as an army and police chaplain, has led extensive humanitarian ministries in Timor Leste, and is now chaplain to the ex-service community in south-east Queensland.