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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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

(more…)

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…)

Personal Reflections on Timor Awakening: A rehabilitation program for mentally ill Australian veterans

By Associate Professor Bob Breen.

I am a veteran managing depression. For many veterans like me, mental illness is a private nightmare that becomes a public humiliation as well as a disaster for loved ones. The consequences include relationship breakdown, substance abuse, unemployment and suicide. I have been publicly humiliated by my illness. I am divorced. I have lost my job. I am managing my illness much better now and have another job. I am writing to share the effects of the Timor Awakening program on me and others.

After 40 years in uniform, finishing as a Colonel, I have re-joined a brotherhood and sisterhood once again with the common purpose of fighting our mental illnesses by helping each other. Timor Awakening is a high-risk program that reaches out to mostly high-risk veterans. I participated in the first Timor Leste immersion experience in July 2016. The program design was sound and veterans, especially some who had ‘closed down’ in despair, completed the 11-day program strengthened and committed to getting well again, knowing that they were not alone in the ongoing battle. They rediscovered mateship on the roads of Timor Leste and were both inspired and strengthened by the stories of resilience from Timorese Resistance veterans who accompanied them. (more…)

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