President’s Report FY: 2016/2017

This last 12 months has seen the most significant increase in the range and number of services provided to veterans and their families by VCA, and a 10 fold increase in our financial receipts and expenditure . This has occurred largely as a result of the services provided in the Timor Awakening Programme, developed and delivered by Michael Stone.  Significant funding support has come from our major sponsor RSL Care- now known as Bolton Clark , as well as RSL Qld and Knights of the Southern Cross, and a range of other donors.  Generous volunteers have given the gifts of their time to deliver these services , as well as provide the governance to enable them . While the balance sheet reflects a trading deficit over the period, we delivered services from funds donated in the previous trading year and concluded the year with a $129,412 cash surplus.

VCA is raising the level of health in the veteran community through pastoral care, peer support  and holistic health education.  Over 1000 people have received holistic health education sessions in the FY , and we have had an average of 30 pastoral  interventions every week in that same period. Evidence shows that over 100 Australian families now have improved lives  through Timor Awakening, let alone the thousands  of Timorese veterans and their families we have touched.

On a strategic level, we have engaged in many Ex Service Organisation forums, promoting the need for holistic approaches to Veterans health, and we have made submissions to  Senate Inquiries, Defence and DVA. It has been delightful to hear leaders in these other organisations subsequently echoing and moving towards embracing what we are modeling and advocating. Systemic change will be our biggest long term contribution to Veterans and their families.

Timor Awakening  has established itself as the most innovative step forward in improving Veterans health in Australia.  Four programmes were delivered and evaluated  in this FY. At the same time our visits to Timor have inspired the development  of Veterans support arrangements in that nation. The long term legacy of this programme is beyond our imagining.

All of this has only been possible through the generosity of many volunteers and donors , too many to mention here , but we must formally thank key members of our management team over the period in Geoff Fry ,  Col Ahern, Michael Stone, Wayne Robson .   Kirsten Wells and Michael Albrecht have provided key personal support to clients. We have also been blessed by  advice from our wide range of health consultants of every discipline, with special thanks to Dr Ian Marshall, Dr Merryn Thomae, and Psychologists Dr John Barletta, Chris Hully and Phoebe Cooper . The Treasurer will acknowledge our many donors , but special thanks must go to Pat Mc Intosh, Steve Muggleton, Stewart Cameron, Scott Denner,and  Kevin Lappin,   for unique contributions they have made. Mark Bowling from the Catholic Leader has facilitated excellent media coverage for us. Archbishop Mark Coleridge has given us his blessing and endorsement.

Over the coming year we will be delivering two Timor Awakening programmes and stabilizing our workload for long-term sustenance of our key staff. We are collating evidence of the success of our methodology, seeking longer term funding sources,  and strengthening our volunteer base. Thank you for your support and involvement. We are a caring association of “Good Samaritans”.

Retired Navy medic who suffered depression for 15 years turns life around through Timor Awakening

FOR 15 years former Navy medic Kerri Howie struggled with major clinical depression.

Now the 48–year-old Kedron veteran has found a life-changing mission – thanks to the Veterans’ Care Association, headed by Catholic Deacon Gary Stone.

A year ago Ms Howie travelled to Timor Leste as a member of Timor Awakening, a unique VCA rehabilitation program designed for veterans and with spirituality at its core.

“My life changed and after all those years feeling isolated and alone I came out of the dark – I felt part of a community,” she said.

Since her 11-day Timor visit, and with ongoing treatment, Ms Howie has been brimming with new-found energy and purpose.

She has just returned from trekking across the rugged heart of Timor Leste, from north to south, visiting isolated villages where she used her medic skills as part of a team screening for symptoms of rheumatic heart disease and carried out health education.

Rheumatic fever is rampant in rural East Timor. Bouts of the debilitating condition causes crippling heart failure in young villagers leaving them breathless and lethargic, and without medical treatment can lead to a slow death.

The trek helped raise $20,000 for the East Timor Hearts Fund – to provide emergency heart surgery in Australia. It was led by Earth Trails Expeditions cofounder, Mick Stuth, a former artillery medic and Timor Leste veteran.

“It was a perfect opportunity to combine a physical challenge with helping people,” Ms Howie said.

“I felt I’m here for something bigger than myself.”

Her trans-Timor trek, with local guides and other Australian health professionals, took her to the summit of Timor Leste’s highest mountain, Mt Ramelau.

Adorned with a statue of the Virgin Mary at its 2986 metre peak, Mt Ramelau is a pilgrimage site of deep religious and cultural significance, with sweeping views across Timor Leste.

“It is absolutely spectacular country, with so much potential,” Ms Howie said.

Ms Howie’s Timor visit also took her to Adare, Atauro Island offshore from the capital Dili where she participated in delivering critical, basic health education.

She said if Timorese people hope to improve their lives that they get greater access to health care and education and develop first aid skills.

She said, “she felt extremely honoured, inspired and grateful to have witnessed other Australians like ETX trek leader, Mick Stuth, “giving back” to Timor Leste’s village poor.”

Ms Howie looks back at the last year since joining the Timor Awakening program as her own “life healing”.

“It is helping me find my soul,” she said.

“It’s all about being in a community of like-minded people, meeting people who inspire you like Gary (Deacon Gary Stone), and learning.

“I still enjoy my time alone, but that’s okay because now I am busy planning stuff that is fulfilling.”

“I’m nearly 50 and it’s finally time to get on with it.”

Ms Howie, who grew up in Bowen, served in the Australian navy for 15 years, much of the time based at HMAS Penguin in Sydney.

Her work included the care of navy divers.

While serving at sea as a petty officer, Ms Howie said she was subjected to sexual harassment.

Even after lodging official complaints, her grievances were not taken seriously.

“I had had a great career, but I left the Navy quite depressed,” she said.

“Since leaving, the next 15 years of my life were ruled by depression. I had difficulty transitioning, I isolated myself.”

Ms Howie said she suffered addiction to ice, and in the depths of depression attempted suicide.

After her naval discharge she received the best conventional medical care including months of hospitalisation, electroconvulsive therapy, the latest medications, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy.

However Ms Howie said “her soul remained empty and her life was only one of day to day survival”.

“Only being well enough to function, to work. There was no happiness, joy or purpose, no zest for life. I worked in a job I came to detest to pay bills to live a miserable, isolated life,” she said.

“There had to be a better way.”

She attributes her remarkable life turnaround to Timor Awakening, and is full of praise for Deacon Stone who heads the Veterans Care Association program, and his son Michael Stone, a former platoon commander in 2RAR, who conceived, developed and is the director of TA program.

Timor Awakening is a 12-month immersion experience for ex-services personnel supported by doctors, psychologists and chaplains – all veterans themselves.

“If it wasn’t for Timor Awakening I’d still be living that miserable, empty, lonely life,” she said.

“Having a goal and focussing on it is so important – and being accountable.”

Ms Howie said experiencing the hospitality of Timorese culture was memorable.

“Although it was only for a short time, living as part of a community who have such strong faith, love and care for their fellow human beings, despite having very little themselves, provided me with many profound moments,” she said.

Being invited to Mass in a small village, in a predominantly Catholic Timor Leste was another memorable experience.

“Sunday is a day of rest in Timor. They must work very hard just to feed their families. Starting the day at Mass with these beautiful people filled me with so much loving, joyous energy. I felt alive again,” she said.

“They sang, there is a vibe … it is beautiful. This is their faith and I understand how important it is to have that in your community,” she said.

“You need to have that faith and sense of community to grow personally.

“That’s given me great insight back into my own spirituality. I’m finding my soul, I’m inspired, I have purpose. I feel alive and look forward to the many opportunities ahead.”

The Veterans Care Association relies on donor support for its ongoing operation.

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The article was written by Mark Bowling for The Catholic Leader. Reproduced with permission. See the full article here.

Strengthening Timor ties

CLOSE ties between Church and people are a legacy of last month’s Anzac Day visit to Brisbane by Timor Leste’s new leader accompanied by war veterans.

It was the first visit to Australia by President  elects Francisco Guterres, a 24-year veteran of East Timor’s resistance to Indonesian occupation.

Mr Guterres is keen to forge neighbourly ties, and is particularly concerned with improving the welfare of veterans in the fledgling Timor Leste.

In Brisbane, the Catholic Church is playing a prominent part in both creating goodwill and assisting veterans re-integrate into civilian life.

Timor Leste veterans marched alongside Australian comrades in the Anzac street parade in Brisbane, and President-elect Guterres at- tended the Anzac Day Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral, seated together with Queensland Governor Paul de Jersey, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Police Commissioner Ian Stewart.

As a sign of close ties the new leader presented Archbishop Mark Coleridge with a traditionally-woven Timorese scarf and the two men embraced on the steps of the cathedral.

“It was a warm welcoming moment,” Deacon Gary Stone, who has been instrumental in forging relations with Timor Leste through his Veterans Care Association, said.

“And during the Anzac parade we marched as one contingent (Timorese and Australian veterans). “

“After they had marched, the Timorese veterans were given a place of honour on the saluting dais.”

In Brisbane, Deacon Stone accompanied President-elect Guterres to visit Mates4Mates to see firsthand a veterans care facility.

Mates4Mates helps military service personnel transition into civilian life – a task that can be tough for veterans and their families and might require the support of a mate.

Deacon Stone said the Timorese veterans returned home with ideas and inspiration to develop their own celebrations to mark military service and ways to care for veterans and their families.

“They can take back a vision of how the RSL and a whole range of veterans’ groups have built up niche capabilities to support the veteran community,” he said.

Mr Guterres will be sworn in as the country’s fourth president later this month.

Fifteen years after independence, Timor Leste’s key oil reserves are running dry and the government is struggling to resolve a long- running row with Australia over lucrative energy fields in the Timor Sea.


The article was written by Mark Bowling for The Catholic Leader. Reproduced with permission. See the full article here.

Mau Buti joins Anzac Day commemoration

TIMOR Leste’s independence struggle veteran Mau Buti spent 24 years as a guerrilla fighter living in the mountains.

Last week Mr Buti mingled with Australian students and veterans as he and 30 Timorese veterans accompanied his country’s President-elect Francisco Guterres on a visit to Queensland to strengthen veteran ties and take part in Anzac Day commemorations.

In Brisbane’s Anzac Square last Monday, he met Australian students who marvelled at him and several of his veteran companions, when they were told of the struggle Timorese guerrillas endured in a long and dangerous occupation by Indonesia.

Year 7 students from Our Lady’s College, Annerley, attending the Brisbane cenotaph for a student Anzac Day event of April 24, honoured the memory of nurses who have served and died during wartime.

The students recreated the Australian nurses uniform worn during the Second World War.

The six students represented 25 nurses who died during the war.

“It’s to remember all the nurses as well as soldiers who served in war and see that those who died have the recognition,” student Seattle Stiller said.

“We’d like to be grateful for everybody who served in wartime and made our country what it is today,” student Grace Pursey said.


Anzac event: A veteran of Timor Leste’s independence struggle Mau Buti meets Year 7 students from Our Lady’s College, Annerley, dressed to honour the legacy of Australian nurses who served and died in war. Photo: Mark Bowling

In a predominantly Catholic East Timor, Mr Buti was among veterans separated from their families for years.

According to Church records the death toll from fighting and from Indonesian military killing of civilians reached more than 200,000.

Many observers have called the Indonesian military action in East Timor an example of genocide.

In 1999 when Indonesian militia forces unleashed a final reign of terror on towns and villages, Mr Buti and other guerrillas living in the mountains were ordered to remain in cantonment and not fight back, in order to maintain international support for their resistance cause.

He said it was one of the hardest orders he ever had to follow.

Since independence in 2002, Australia has been helping East Timor rebuild its armed forces, and there is a warm friendship between the veterans of both nations.

In Townsville, the Timor Leste veterans visited Lavarack Barracks, home of the Australian Army’s 3rd Brigade which provided the nucleus of the INTERFET deployment to Timor in 1999 and Operation Astute in 2006.

Timor Leste’s Minister of State Agio Pereira, said: “This visit builds on a friendship reaching back to the Second World War when the Timorese at great cost assisted Australian commandos.

Catholic school students honour wartime nurses

Women in focus: Students from Our Lady’s College, Annerley, honour nurses who served and died during wartime. Photo: Mark Bowling.

“This friendship has been strengthened by ongoing connections with the INTERFET soldiers who witnessed first hand the devastation of our country, and in recent years has broken new ground with the relationship between our veteran communities and the success of the Timor Awakening initiative.”

Timor Awakening is a rehabilitation program run by Deacon Gary Stone’s Veterans Care Association and sponsored by RSL Queensland.

It offers a program of renewal and rehabilitation for 200 Australian veterans and 140 Timorese Veterans, centred around immersion experiences of 11 days duration in Timor-Leste.

“The bonds between the Australian veteran community and Timor Leste are a fine example of what can be developed in a spirit of friendship characterised by cooperation and mutual respect,” Mr Pereira said.

Dr Ian Marshall, Australian president of the Order of Malta and Timor Leste’s honorary consul in Queensland, said the visit was one step towards improving services for Timor’s veterans.

“Timor Leste has a department of veterans affairs but it does not have a RSL (Returned Services League,” he said.

“The Queensland RSL has a strong interest in mentoring and fostering them.”

Dr Marshall said the Order of Malta’s work in Timor Leste had included re-establishing an ambulance service, building an orphanage and a world-class clinic.


Article written by Mark Bowling for The Catholic Leader. Reproduced with permission. See the full article here.

Timorese president will lead veterans’ delegation

New Timorese president will lead veterans’ delegation at Anzac Day services in Brisbane

THE newly-elected president of Timor Leste, former guerilla fighter Francisco Guterres, will lead a 30-person delegation of veterans to Brisbane this Anzac Day.

President Guterres, a Catholic, was a commander during a two decades-long armed struggle against Indonesia, which invaded Timor Leste in 1974.

The visit by Timorese war veterans to participate in Anzac activities honours the commitment of Australian troops supporting the people of Timor Leste – both in the Second World War and since 1999 when Australian troops have helped restore civil order after a fractious vote for independence.

As Timor Leste’s new head of state, President Guterres has become a keen supporter of Timor Awakening, a rehabilitation program for Aussie Veterans, led by Brisbane archdiocese’s Deacon Gary Stone, and his son, former major Michael Stone.

“The real significance of his visit is that even if we are at an impasse at a government level between Australia and Timor Leste, there is a very strong veteran-to-veteran link,” Deacon Stone said. “Australian veterans have long been wonderful advocates for relations between Australia and East Timor.”

Timor Awakening provides healing and health for veterans, and includes a 10-day trip to Timor, to visit significant sites of conflict for both Timorese and Australians. A recent Timor Awakening contingent held prayer services at Bazartete and Balibo, which are sites of military importance for both nations.

“Everywhere we go in Timor it becomes a big local event with up to a thousand people coming,” Deacon Stone said.

President Guterres who has described himself as “the son of a poor family, of humble people” is keen to promote ties between Australian and Timorese veterans.

Article written by Mark Bowling for The Catholic Leader. Reproduced with permission. See the full article here:

Psychologist praises TA

Leading clinical psychologist praises veteran program ‘Timor Awakening’

A LEADING clinical psychologist has praised the “quality healing” of the rehabilitation program Timor Awakening, which is helping veterans deal with PTSD, substance abuse, isolation and thoughts of committing suicide.

Brisbane-based Dr John Barletta, who volunteered as a consultant on the Timor Awakening program, said “it has been inspiring to see veterans and leaders connect, support, guide, challenge, and educate one another” and “regain a sense of worth in their lives”.

The one-year program, led by Deacon Gary Stone and the Veterans Care Association with support from RSL Queensland, includes an innovative immersion experience for veterans in Timor Leste, a country where many younger veterans have served.

Greater support for veterans has been identified as a national priority to deal with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and alcohol and substance abuse, as well as a staggering suicide rate amongst the veteran community.

Dr Barletta recently accompanied veterans to Timor Leste, providing his own specialist guidance and positive psychology strategies.

“The veterans, though wounded in certain ways, have been quite willing and able to use their relative strengths to be future-focused, and work on integrating their learnings from Timor Awakening to change their lives toward greater health and wellbeing,” he said.

Dr Barletta said veterans visiting Timor Leste (for most, many years after they served there) were able to see that their efforts “amidst the pain and destruction and suffering” had resulted in change and created hope in people’s lives.

“Even on the very first day in Dili, our veterans were able to say ‘what I did was worth something’,” he said.

“For a lot of the veterans the most powerful thing was seeing children, bathed and well clothed and learning in schools. This is the next generation in Timor, and it really touched our guys to see their contribution as servicemen had helped create this.

“It is part of our existential life to be in the service of others. It’s an achievement – part of living a full life.”

Deacon Gary Stone

Joyous: Deacon Gary Stone handing out school supplies in Timor Leste

Dr Barletta said for many veterans, medically discharged after their national service, each day was a challenge.

“How do we get them engaged?” he said, noting that it was often a cultural struggle for veterans to blend back into Australian life.

In his talks to veterans, Dr Barletta said he explained it was their responsibility to build in positive experiences each day including an exercise regime, attending to their psychological and relationship wellbeing, developing hobbies and voluntary work.

“And I would say ‘this stuff is not going to happen by miracle. You can cross your fingers, you can pray’. Hope is wonderful, but at the end of the day hope is not a strategy. There needs to be a plan,” he said.

“What you need to put in the cross-hairs are routine patterns and habits – because when you do the life-giving stuff, that becomes the new normal. And that fills the neural pathways to your brain – through the routines, repetition and deliberate practice.”

Dr Barletta said part of the challenge of suicide prevention is harnessing the “grit, determination and ‘stickability’ which military personnel develop through their service and having those dimensions come to the fore in their civil life.”

Dr Barletta said he would continue to work with the Veteran Care Association team, which consisted of two psychologists, a nurse, as well as Deacon Stone and his son Michael Stone, a former army major.

“Let me reiterate … I believe that the program has sound psychological underpinnings, and with further work will be even more proficient at catering to the complex needs of veterans,” Dr Barletta said.

March News

Our next VCA gathering day is on Sat 1 April at Mates4Mates Milton at 1000

One of our recent Timor Awakening participants has said :  “This has been the best experience of my life.” Another reported: “ This has provided me more help than all of the clinicians I have seen over many years.”

With feedback such as this we are encouraged that the model we are developing in Veterans Health is not just helping the individuals we are directly engaging with , but also will change the broader approach offered  to all veterans. We are about promoting a wellness model of living, rather than enduring a sickness model of treatment. We are seeking to provide hope and restore people who have been labelled “totally and permanently incapacitated” to a level of health and wellbeing that is joyful and  generative, empowering them to see a future life purpose.

We especially thank Pat Mc Intosh and RSL Care for the substantial financial support they have given this year to enable us to continue to deliver our programmes and engage professional clinical staff to supplement our volunteers. They are now our major sponsor and we proudly sing their praises for many initiatives in supporting veterans and families around Australia and for trusting us. RSL Qld and Knights of the Southern Cross remain as sponsors and we are grateful for their ongoing support.

We thank Michael Stone and his team for delivering Timor Awakening 3, which built on learnings from our two previous programmes, and will see further adjustments with TA4 spending 3 fulldays on Atauro Island focussing on health education, more sharing and more physical exercise options.  The Prime Minister of Timor Leste, Dr Rui Arujo  is going to join us for this time, so supportive is the Timorese Govt of what we are doing ! Look up our many pictures on Facebook page Timor Awakening.

Back at base, at 2 Victoria Park Road Kelvin Grove , we have joyfully welcomed  psychologists Kaye Adams and Phoebe Cooper  to our Pastoral Team, coordinated by Kirsten Wells. We now have first class response capacity, record keeping, and programme evaluation in place. CPA accountant Wayne Robson is supporting Geoff Fry and Col Ahern in our governance team and we are in process of managing all our finances onto the XERO system, giving instant visibility and accountability of all we do.

Our next VCA gathering day is on Sat 1 April at Mates4Mates facility in Douglas St Milton starting at 1000, and including lunch at 1200. We will be providing an overview of VCA developments, hearing feedback from TA3 participants, briefing TA4 participants departing on 30 Apr, awarding Quilts of Valour, and making welcome participants hoping to deploy on TA5 in July.

We continue to be inspired to engage in this ministry as it is truly a Good Samaritan activity, in the words of Jesus, “bringing Good News to the afflicted, proclaiming liberty to captives, bringing new sight to the blind, and setting the downtrodden free.”


My God bless you all and may you celebrate the new life that Easter proclaims.

Your Padre
Gary Stone

Veterans Care Association Inc
Holistic Care for of Body Mind & Soul for Veterans, Families & Carers

The Balibo Fort

The Veterans Care TA3 Team

TA3 Participants at Liquica

Gary handing out a couple of more than 3000 School Kits

The Welcome we received at the Aussie Commando Base at Bazartete

Timor Awakens by Kylie Hatfield

“Timor-Leste is a country that is peaceful, unexplored, rich in culture and a significant shared history with the Australian Military. It’s a country full of veterans and civilians that have suffered unimaginable atrocities, hardship, trauma and oppression; a people who have exhibited incredible resilience, reconciled with their foes and are moving forward,” described Michael Stone of Veterans Care.

“We can be very proud of our military intervention since INTERFET, and we are honoured to provide our veterans the opportunity to be inspired from the healing and rehabilitation the Timorese veterans provide us; to move forward with hope and purpose.”

Timor Awakening is much more than an 11-day experience through East Timor. As veterans found on the two tours conducted this year, it is an opportunity to heal from the emotional and mental wounds of their service. The tour through eight Districts enables veterans to see first-hand how far the communities impacted by war have come following the restoration of peace, in part thanks to Australia’s Defence personnel.

Timorese-Veteran.jpgLast surviving Timorese who was forced labour to dig the Japanese Munitions Storage and air raid shelter tunnels south of Baucau. Image Source: RSL News


President’s Report

Presidents Report  to AGM for FY 15/16

This last 12 months has seen a most significant increase in the range and number of services provided to veterans and their families by VCA . This has occurred as a result of the development of the Timor Awakening Programme, and significant funding support from RSL Care , RSL Qld and Knights of the Southern cross as well as a range of other donors.  But the actual service delivery has been facilitated by many generous volunteers  who are members of VCA .

VCA was established to raise the level of health of the veteran community and we have definitely been doing that primarily through pastoral care and holistic health education.  Approximately 1000 people have received holistic health education sessions in the FY , and we have had an average of 30 pastoral  interventions every week in that same period. This will remain our frontline activity. (more…)

Aussie Veterans are receiving Healing and Hope through a Timor Awakening

Former Army Warrant Officer Nick , considers the title Timor Awakening a most apt title for the 11 day experience he had in Timor in September 2016 . “ It was real awakening to me of the possibilities of healing. My partner has noticed a huge change in me since I came home. I’ve had the chance to put some demons behind. A huge thanks to the VCA team of Michael Stone, Gary Stone, Kirsten Wells, Bob Breen, Merryn Thomae and Wayne Smith who have facilitated this journey for us.”

Former AFP agent Mark says “ I have been able to purge an issue that has affected my life and career for the last 12 years since I served in Timor. This experience has resolved a major life issue, that years of counselling was unable to do.” (more…)

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