Timor Awakening Update

29 Australians and 20 Timorese Veterans completed a joint rehabilitation experience in Timor from 17-28 July 2016.

From touchdown at Dili airport, through 960 km of travel in rural areas, and till takeoff 11 days later, we were overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Timorese.

Hundreds of Timorese veterans turned out in every District, and massive community welcoming ceremonies and celebrations every day.

Our purpose had been to improve the health of the veterans and their families by having a communal lived experience reflecting on the resilience and rehabilitation demonstrated by the Timorese and shared reflections amongst ourselves.

End of tour evaluations confirmed we achieved our aim.

Some selected comments:

“I have developed an overwhelming sense of contentment.”

“The whole experience was invigorating, and Im now at peace.”

“I’ve established a firm base for future growth. I’m now proud of what I’ve done. I’ve also made peace with the Indonesians.”

“Extremely beneficial. A cleansing emotional journey towards achieving identified objectives in my new personal health and wellbeing plan.”

What initially began as a discrete ex-service activity, has grown into an international relations success for our two nations. Former President Jose Ramos Horta hosted us at his residence. Prime Minister Rui De Arujo has written a letter of thanks to RSL Australia asking for the programme to continue and expand, and the ADF and AFP have expressed desire to participate.

Participants were daily introduced by first hand witnesses to the horrors of the Timorese experiences under Japanese and Indonesian occupation, but shared also their amazing abilty to endure and forgive.

Australian veterans got to visit the many places they had served and see the remarkable improvements made, and a highlight for many was to cross the border near Balibo and experience reconciliation with the Indonesian Police and Military.

A full briefing on the experience for anyone interested will be provided at Kookaburra Café Paddington on Sunday 14 Aug with dinner at 6 pm and briefing at 7 pm.

A workshop for TA participants will be held from 10-2pm on Sat 27 Aug at Mates4Mates new facility at Douglas St Milton.

Good News from Veterans Care

As you are reading this, our first Timor immersion is underway! Michael Stone is in Dili working with the Timorese veterans who are hosting us. Kirsten Wells is on her way to Darwin to meet with four Darwin participants and early arrivals from Tasmania, NSW and Rockhampton, and Caitlin Proctor and I will travel with the main body from Brisbane early Sunday morning. We will be farewelled in Darwin by Timorese Ambassador to Australia Abel Guterres, and newly elected Federal Member for Darwin, Army Veteran and good friend of ours, Luke Gosling. In Dili we will be met on the tarmac by a representative group of Timorese Veterans and the Prime Ministers Director of Veterans Affairs, Ines Amielda.

After 4 months of guided preparation, 27 Aussie vets are travelling to Timor, ranging in age from 30 to 71, from four years to 47 years service. Veterans of all three services, one former AFP Police Officer and all recent conflicts, with seven females and 20 males. Together with the Timorese we will form a cavalcade with a group of over 50 in total, to journey around the country over the coming 11 days, visiting a vast array places of prominence where Australian and Timorese veterans served from WW2 onwards.

Our focus will not be on the past but rather to seek inspiration for the present and future through seeing, hearing and learning of the incredible resilience, reconciliation and rehabilitation of the Timorese Resistance warriors. We will share our stories of what has worked well, support each other in fellowship, and contemplate how we might better nurture our bodies, minds, souls, and relationships for the journey ahead. A key outcome for each individual is to develop a Health and Wellbeing plan, and imagine a future life identity and purpose, especially in respect of involvement in the ex service community.

The trip will have a climactic point on 23 July when participants will do a predawn ascent of Timor’s highest mountain, Mt Ramelau, to experience the dawn and have a service of healing and new beginnings, leaving the past and darkness behind and embracing a future of life, love and hope. This is the Awakening we all desire but find so elusive in day to day life in Australia.

The Timor immersion is meant to be a circuit-breaker to prepare participants for a period of 9 months follow up support by VCA staff in living out new and healthier lifestyles.

Thanks to all VCA members and those who have contributed, sponsored and supported this programme in so many ways. We are especially grateful to our major sponsors – RSL Qld for majority funding of this specific programme and RSL Care for funding for our staff and other activities.

We hope to do daily posts on our Timor Awakening page on Faceook, and would invite all our members, supporters and sponsors to Kookaburra Cafe on Sunday 14 Aug at 1800 (6pm) for a meal followed by a briefing on our experience.

Obrigado  (Thank You )

May God bless you – Gary



Caring for the mind

As with the body we need to embrace those things that nurture us and avoid those things which are toxic. The most toxic impact on the mind is stress.

Stress is a more significant danger to our health than being 15 kg overweight. Stress hormones increase our blood flow to the muscles for  “fight or flight” and in doing so,  shut down our processes for healing and growth. Stress down regulates our immune system . What happens in our mind affects our body in profound ways. Chronic stress raises cortisol levels which turns off our immune system, keeps us awake, raises our blood pressure, and increases our abdominal fat by leading us to overeat. Chronic stress depletes serotonin levels, moving us  into depression.

We need to manage stress of identifying what we can avoid, and possibly changing our situation so that we are not exposed to the stressors. Clearly everyone will have a better life if we live in a healthier harmonious environment.  This may mean that we need to change our work circumstances, or make choices to not expose ourselves to situations or people that are clearly distressing and toxic to us.

For those things or people that we can’t avoid , we need to find ways to manage them differently. The fundamental treatment for anxiety and distress his cognitive behaviour therapy. This is a psychological intervention that helps us to think clearly and avoid catastrophic thinking in situations that seem threatening to us. Essentially this technique encourages us, when stimulated by a potential stressor, to consciously think about the situation before we allow our body to go into “fight or flight” mode. People with PTSD are hypersensitive to stimuli that are associated with the trauma situations that they have faced in the past. For example, a bang type noise, could automatically see the person’s body want to take cover, fearing it was a gunshot or explosion that was threatening, but a cognitive intervention would see the person reminding themselves that they should wait to see if there is any evidence of a threat. Over a number of sessions of therapy, a person with PTSD can be trained to use this technique to avoid overreaction to situations.

Another simple therapy that a psychologist could assist with, is called exposure therapy. In this technique the therapist invites you explore a range of low stress situations with the “eyes and attitude” of a forensic investigator. Over a number of sessions, the therapist gradually increases the potential stressfulness of future imagined situations and tries to help you get accustomed to a calmer bodily response. The aim here is to train the body to minimise its reaction to future surprise stimuli, by exposure to such a situation in a non-threatening environment. Hopefully the body them develops some muscle memory of associating a lower level of physical reaction response to such stimuli.

For cases of anxiety and depression, a doctor may well wish to prescribe antidepressant medications. In simplest terms these medications are designed to assist in the production of serotonin, dopamine and other brain chemicals that are needed for us to remain calmer. We should be prepared to take medication when it is prescribed. Generally it is not addictive but that may cause us side-effects like a dry mouth as we get used to it. The medication will normally take at least two weeks to have a demonstrable effect in our body but it is well worth the wait. Of course it is much better if we can have natural chemical production of the hormones that are needed for relaxation and calmness, by eating the foods that assist in this area.  Taking medication indefinitely, does not address the baseline situation that is causing stress in the first place.  The medication provides some temporary relief but it is clearly much better if we can change our circumstances so that we are not exposed to stressors as much as possible.

Other simple techniques can be employed to decrease stress levels. Slow deep breathing will also slow down our heart rate, and give greater oxygenation to our body that will allow it to calm. A hot bath relaxes us and stimulates circulation of blood to the brain. A gentle walk in the sunshine, (creating some Vitamin D), taking in the sights and sounds of nature, or playing with a pet or even simply saying thank you and being thankful for the things that are going well in your life can all contribute to minimising and diminishing stress.

A problem shared is a problem halved, and thus calling a friend to share your situation, or seeing a counsellor to help you get a different perspective on the situation you are facing, can do wonders to minimise your stress levels. When you’re in a situation where there is no one to talk to, even just writing the situation down on a piece of paper, or into a diary to be dealt with later, or by writing a draft response to the person that is causing you distress, can relocate the problem out of your mind and into another place, until you are composed to deal with the situation.

The mind can get overloaded, because we are doing too much, and are allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by too many activities or demanding people pressing against us. Simply using a diary or a planner to apportion your time and to put off into the future, issues or tasks that we experience as pressure,  can be a great help. At the same time a systematic approach to living can help us to block out time for rest, recreation and time with friends and family well in advance of the inevitable requests that others may place on our time. Of course we must learn to be able to say “no” or “not now but perhaps later” to the demands that may be placed upon us.

Health will only be possible in a life that is balanced, and a mind that is at peace.

A very helpful approach to live is one called “ mindfulness”. Essentially this is a way of living that focuses on being mindful of the present moment. It recognises that we can’t do anything to influence what has happened in the past and we can do little to influence what might happen in the future, but we can live well in the present moment. One form of stress is anticipatory,  in that we imagine a whole range of negative possibilities that might happen in the future. A mindful approach would see us trying to fully appreciate the positive aspects of the present moment and leaving the future to be dealt with when it arrives.

A positive key to health of our mind is to have happy interactions with our friends and family. Relationships are intimately connected to our health.  We need to invest in life giving relationships, and give appropriate time and attention especially to our most intimate relationships. Where we are having relationship difficulties we should be prepared to take relationship counselling.

Mental health can emerge from having a clear mind and thoughts. We need to give the mind enough time to process thoughts, and so silence is important to allow that to happen. When we fill our life with the noise of television music and radio, the mind will use our rest time and specifically our sleep time to process unresolved issues. Will lead to us having restless sleep as well as nightmares. We must have time in our normal day for silence to allow the mind to do the work it needs to do.












Caring for the soul

Defence has recently released a DVD called ‘Dents in the Soul”. The title comes from a statement by a veteran commander from our 1992 Somalia deployment who reflected that he had received “Dents in the Soul” from this experience.

From a philosophical and spiritual perspective, our soul is different to our mind. The soul can provide the vision and inspiration to direct the mind. The mind is a physical place intimately connected with the chemistry of our brain.  Our soul is a spiritual reality. It is that aspect of our existence where we find true identity and purpose. All animals have a brain, but humans additionally have a soul- a place where God provides us the unique faculties to love and be loved, and experience creativity and emotions. Through the soul we are able to connect with the Universal energy of all Creation.

At the moment of conception, God gives to the cellular human form, a soul that is absolutely unique in all the world, which is then nurtured by the love of parents and others and in due course responds in love itself.  Throughout life that soul is the point of connection between humans and God, wherein God provides us the intuition and instinct to act morally and ethically.  The soul gives us the unique identity of every human being, with its particular makeup of hopes desires joys and frustrations. While the brain might give us intellect and cognition, the soul is a mirror of our character and personhood – our “human beingness”.  At the point of death we believe that the soul leaves the body and returns to God’s place for us in heaven, alongside all those other souls that seek God’s loving embrace.

The soul is nurtured by love and affection, and is the essence in which relationships are lived out in the world. The soul however has free will, to choose good or bad behaviour. The character of a soul develops over time depending upon our inherited DNA structure, the experiences, influences and inputs it receives, and the reactions we have to them.  Theists believe that God constantly tries to inform our souls to make good, right, just and loving choices in the way we live our lives. Some might call this internal communication our conscience, whereupon we have an intuition of what God would want us to do and what God would definitely not want us to. In a slightly different way to thoughts, people receive a sense of this right or wrong ; appropriate or inappropriate way of acting. By an act of free will people to act in conscience, or unconscionably.

Alternatives to Godly behaviour also emerge occasionally in this spiritual sphere.  Whilst sometimes we can name people as having acted badly or inappropriately, over and above this we can be shocked by behaviour that is so inhuman, that we must accept that it might be other than human.  Named over the ages variously as evil spirits , Satan , or demons there exist spiritual forces that are the antithesis of good and nurturing and loving behaviour. Rather than just philosophize about this concept,  I must say that I have witnessed such demonstrably evil forces at play in the behaviour of people who have engaged in barbaric acts of torture and depravity associated with conflicts I have served in around the world.  I have witnessed, face-to-face, demonic possession within a human body where the person’s natural human character was subsumed and overridden by a violent and aggressive caricature that departed from that person’s body when I ordered it out in the name of Jesus Christ. Human beings that are confronted or have witnessed such in-human behaviour can receive wounds to their soul. It is only possible to deal with spiritual evils, by accessing the power of spiritual goodness and specifically the power of God.

Not wanting to give too much credit to the reality of such evil , it is nevertheless necessary to acknowledge that most bad things are done purely by humans who make selfish and greedy or just outright bad decisions . Just as our souls are nurtured by love , they can also be damaged or wounded by guilt or the realisation that a person has acted wrongly.  This may take the form of an action that has been done that was wrong, either intentionally or unintentionally , and has  resulted in the death, illness or serious injury of another human being. Even the self-experience of illness or serious injury and the despair that may entail may lead to moral injury.

Equally a wound to the soul may result from inaction or avoidance that might have resulted in the saving someone’s life, or preventing serious injury. A common phrase among veterans in this regard is the notion of “survivor guilt”.  A person who has avoided death or injury when someone else has taken their place on patrol and then has been killed or injured, can frequently be heavily burdened by their perception that they are responsible person’s demise. In psychiatric literature, such situations are now being commonly termed as “moral injuries”. Unresolved guilt can play havoc with a person’s body mind and soul.

The nurturing of the soul to enable us to live healthy well balanced and enjoyable lives requires something more than the rationale that cognitive behaviour therapy can offer the mind.

An acknowledgement of the importance of spirituality has underpinned every great civilisation in history. Spirituality provides the framework for positive nurturing of people’s souls and for healing of wounded souls.

In the first instance we might look at how the soul can be nurtured. St Paul in his letter to the people of Corinth said that the three most important things in life, are faith hope and love, and the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13).

Clinical tests have proven that persons being nurtured in “love”, experience additional hormonal releases of endorphins and dopamine which lift the human spirit. Love also improves our immune response. A life lived in providing and receiving love,  promotes good health. Spirituality in all its forms and in all religious traditions has identified that the source of love is God, and indeed Christians say that “God is love”. Whilst the importance of love could not be disputed by any sane individual, it is clearly in religious practices and traditions, that the nurturing of love through teaching and the practice of loving actions is promoted.

A second important component of a healthy soul is to have a strong sense of “hope”. Whilst the mind might form us of scientific realities and probabilities, a soul anchored in spiritual nourishment can be uplifted by a sense of hope. Within this paradigm a person who might otherwise worry about events in the future places a trust in God to shape future events, and even work through our human efforts, for a more positive outcome than might otherwise be expected. Hope based on faith in God has sustained many prisoners of war, in situations that were completely beyond their control.

The third element of this triad is indeed “faith”.  Faith is a religious paradigm whereupon the person has belief in God or a divine or higher power. All faith traditions have teachings and stories that have nurtured and sustained behaviour of individuals and communities for centuries.  Faith structures provide people with concepts of identity and life purpose that empowers them in lives lived with compassion for others. All faith traditions have practices and sacred rituals that nurture the soul. The most basic of these are personal prayer and meditation as well as regular community worship which can provide an individual with life-giving energy that promotes their health.

Conversely, spiritual and religious traditions have long established practices and concepts for healing of the soul. The “intentional” prayer for healing, involving the laying on of hands and appeal to God’s miraculous power to intervene in a person circumstances is the most basic form of spiritual healing. I have witnessed a number of miraculous physical healings through prayer, for people who would otherwise have died from gunshot wounds, tuberculosis and traumatic injuries. Indeed I credit  my own survival today after being taken captive by gunmen in Iran,  and more recently almost dying from cancer, and subsequently peritonitis, to the power of God’s intervention through prayer.

A particular form of prayer that has been most successful in healing the body and the mind as well as the soul is known as meditation. Essentially this spiritual practice involves quietening  our minds to allow of God to place smoothing and restorative thoughts and emotions in our being. Some forms of meditation involve saying a repeated mantra prayer like “Come Lord Jesus” or an intentional desire or vision word like “Harmony” or “Peace” or “Contentment” to help obtain the state where communication with God is achieved. Meditative practices are clinically proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure , as well as stimulating the production of  serotonin.

Where notions of guilt are wounding the soul, the spiritual actions of confession, desire for forgiveness, the receiving of absolution, the intention to make reparation for any wrong and the desire to behave appropriately, have provided many people with healing. This can be done best thorough another person as confessor, but also through an internal forum with God direct, recalling the traumatic event and asking and claiming spiritual, mental and bodily release from its hold on you.

Major Christian traditions have institutionalised such processes in sacred rituals variously called Confession or Reconciliation. Having confessed your concerns and being told and assured that you are forgiven and then commissioned to go forth “trying not to sin again” has a massive positive impact on our soul. Historical evidence from places of conflict have demonstrated that these rituals, both with individuals and by collective communities, have had significant success in restoring health of both victims and perpetrators, in ways that secular processes of Justice have only partially assisted.

The popular media personality, former SAS soldier, and survival expert Bear Grylls, states in his book,  A survival guide for life, “Faith matters.  Jesus Christ has been the most incredible anchor and secret strength in my life. It is so important to have his guidance as we navigate through any jungle”.

Just as you would approach a doctor to get assistance with matters affecting the body, and a psychologist to assist with matters affecting  the mind, it is appropriate that a minister or spiritual guide assist us in dealing with matters affecting the soul.

I can but implore every person to explore experience and nurture the spiritual dimension to life. Jesus promised us in John 10:10 that, “I have come to give you life, and life in all its fullness”. It is a gift freely given and a remarkable source of health and nurture for which atheism or secularism have no comparable contributions to make.


July Meeting update

Just a quick update on progress and to advise a slight change to our programme on 2 July .

We are delighted to have formally welcomed 28 new participants and reserves this week joining our Timor Awakening program, TA2, who will be heading to Timor-Leste18-28 September 2016.  They join 23 who will be departing for Timor on 18 July.  We have been having numerous pastoral engagements with all these folks and its been a delight to see how much appreciation there is for what we are offering.     This letter was sent to VCA from a veteran on 21 Jun16…….I think your program is the real answer. I have had interactions with various other organisations both during and post discharge but they are all lacking one thing – the spiritual focus. I have really been struggling with the numbers of young veterans committing suicide and wished I could help. I truly thank God for your drive, commitment and determination and I have no doubt you and your team are helping to save lives! 

Our Next Group Meeting is Sat 2 July 2016 (Kookaburra Café).  We look forward to seeing our new TA2 group  starting at 11am with an initial briefing on the program as we conducted last time, and time  to get to know each other during lunch (order and pay as you go).  VCA Members, sponsors and TA members are welcome to join us for any of these activities.  Please contact Kirsten if you may have any troubles with transport. It would be wonderful if we can look to carpool to our meetings for people living in the same area.

From 1:00pm-2:30pm there will be a Pre-Timor briefing and Q&A for the TA1 group (all are welcome to sit in )

We now have 106 financial members of VCA, and a further 77 supporters. Whilst our main effort is to offer rehabilitation through the Timor Awakening program , almost every day we are responding to other veterans in need.  We now have a team of over 20 professional clinicians in our support base and offer the widest range of advice. Look up our revamped website for recent additions and a big schedule of coming events .


We are unified in one purpose – to raise the health and wellbeing of veterans and their families and carers. it is  Together as family team that can we best  achieve that .

Thanks so much for your support.



Update from Gary

Just sending a quick update following recent events, and to mention our next gathering is at Kookaburra Cafe on Sat 2 July. All members are welcome especially spouses!

Our presentation at the Lords Mayors Prayer breakfast went very well. About $10,000 came up in the collection from the 300 present, but so many people were touched by this ministry of compassion, and grateful for what we are doing . We are certainly now on the Brisbane radar! Click here to read my presentation. .

The meeting to brief our Timor Awakening participants attracted 42. I’ll let them tell you about it:
From participant Bob Breen – (45 years of infantry service):

“On Sunday 15 May Veterans Care launched the Timor Awakening program with information and encouragement for participants and support staff at the Kookaburra Cafe, Paddington.

Gary Stone, Tour Chaplain and Mentor, welcomed everyone to a transformative journey that would integrate the best fits of mindfulness, spirituality, physical exercise and nutrition to each participant’s circumstances in order to assist them to transition from inhibited potential to full potential for a fulfilling life.

Timor Awakening is a move away from the ‘sickness model’ for veterans’ care to a holistic wellness model fro veterans’ repair, renewal and growth. It is a move from a health system reliance to a ‘self-system’ reliance. From ‘You help me.’ to ‘Me and my mates are helping each other.’

Timor Awakening is a quest. It’s aim is to have every participant draw on education, communal living experience, inspirational mentoring, reflection, peer sharing, specialised intervention and a health and well-being plan to achieve a ‘mountain top’ experience – a circuit breaker on disappointment. The program aims to create meaning, purpose and ‘go forward’. Every participant will put down the burden of a rucksack full of past disappointments to take up the challenges of exploring options for the future.

Michael Stone, Principal Guide to Timor Leste, created expectations of close collaboration with Timorese veterans from the armed struggle for independence from Indonesia. These men would assist and be assisted by Australian veterans renewing an Australian-Timorese mateship that was forged in the Second World War struggle against occupying Japanese armed forces.

The first steps of an exciting and important journey has begun. On! On!”


Nicholas Hodge writes, “At last there is an organisation that delivers sincere heart-felt Holistic care, and doesn’t have an ultimate demanding physical challenge, then leaves you to your own devices afterwards, with limited follow up on your overall wellbeing. During the brief Michael made me cry as I felt his passion enthusiasm and pride. Gary also made me cry with his sincere honesty that we are a family . He shared insight into his troubles and how he conquered them. This is a rare thing and what i classify as a well needed gold nugget for the veteran community. Outstanding!”


Mark Elm writes, “What an awesome initiative. Very proud to be present last night and see first hand the passion and commitment to holistic health care for veterans. It s the first time I’ve witnessed an ESO do this. VCA you are outstanding,  and Charlieand I are proud to be part of this family. Thanks for the love and empathy you’ve shown us and thanks for the Timor Awakening opportunity as we commit to a lifetime of Veteran Care.” 


We are delighted to be part of a veteran community with you . May all of us be blessed, and may we be a blessing to all we meet .

Hope to see you on 2 July –

With love

Rebuilding Veterans’ Lives

DEACON Gary Stone and his son Michael arc both defence veterans and passionate about helping our young soldiers return to their families and civilian life.

Together, they took on a new challenge last week — calling for greater public awareness about the plight of returning veterans, and seeking financial assistance for their mission through the Veterans Cam Association.


“The association started about one-and-a-half years ago, and our mission is very clear. We

am determined to save lives and save families,” Mr. Stone, a former army major, told Church, business and community leaders at the 2016 Brisbane Lord Mayor’s Pray Breakfast.

“The tragic outcome of a lot of the conflicts we have been saving in since 1999 is there are tens of thousands of veterans coming home from conflict with unimaginable trauma and scars, and right now we have a national crisis of veteran suicide, family break-ups and homelessness.”

The Veterans Care Association

is a home-grown. Brisbane charity aiming to run the nation’s biggest non-profit program to help veterans post-traumatic stress disorder. “Both Dad and I have been through quite a lot of conflict and seen the horrors of war, and it really is horrible,” Mr. Stone said

“Being a pastoral cane in the military for 25 years, Dad identified a gaping need to support veterans. At the moment, Veterans Affairs just isn’t capable of addressing these needs.”

Deacon Stone said there were about 12,000 veterans in south-cast Queensland, and about one-third had serious health issues and received treatment He said them were those “who neither seek, nor get treatment, other than self-medicating with alcohol or drugs”.

“And of course half of these people am young people in their 20s and 30s,” Deacon Stone said

“They’ve got physical injuries, they’ve got mental injuries, they’ve got moral injuries and they’ve got relationship difficulties. And many, once they’re discharged from the military, really lack a sense of identity and purpose.

“Yee need to know that from Enoggera (Barracks) last year, 850 soldiers were discharged medically unfit. At 25 years of age, imagine having that? They then don’t seek assistance because of the stigma of having a disability.”

Deacon Stone spoke of the downward spiral of depression that contributed to a horrific suicide rate of almost one veteran each week. ‘Three of them died in the last week of April. This time last Friday a 24-year-old with a wife and two children took his life,’ he said

The Veterans Cam Association, with Deacon Stone as president, has launched a holistic health program, called Timor Awakening, taking aim at the “health crisis’ amongst young Australian veterans.

It is a 12-month immersion program, with the support of doctors, psychologists and chaplains all veterans themselves—and will include an II-day  ‘renewal” trip to Timor Leste dining which the vets will team up with Timor case veterans and their families. Twenty-four will leave on the first trip to Timor in July. They include veterans who saved in East Timor, but also those who served in the current Iraqi conflict

Veterans Cam is socking donations to support its work. Contact, click here

Offering help:  Deacon Gary Stone and his son Michael at the Brisbane Lord Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.

Lord Mayor Prayer Breakfast

Lord Mayor, distinguished guests , ladies and gentlemen, Good morning.    Its  a delight for some of our Veterans Care team to be here among this wonderful community of people that are concerned for others. It s a great strength of this city that we have so many people who care, and we know from a spiritual perspective, when we come together in unity of purpose,   Gods blessings will flow abundantly, and I certainly hope we all leave feeling blessed.

I’ve been invited to share with you on the interface between faith and medicine and health,  in the particular context of the work of our Veterans Care Association, as we minister to veterans and their families. I hope to offer you a pastoral reflection on this topic from our own practical synthesis of faith and medicine. We believe that Faith and medicine must come together in action. Indeed,Archbishop Mark Coleridge has called what we do in Veterans Care as “Mercy in action”. You can see some of the themes I will cover in the pictures on your table.

My desire is that you might all be encouraged , inspired and emboldened to see how you too might synthesise Faith and medicine in your own contexts. But I would be very grateful if you could also see scope to support our veteran community that struggles with many health issues, after many years of peacemaking and peacekeeping in our world.

I wonder how many people here have connection with a veteran or a veteran family? Who here has ever had a serious health issue? Who here thinks that matters of faith and health are interrelated ?  Who here have actually served in our military, police or emergency services ?  Thanks you for your service .

We at Veterans Care are an organisation of mainly veterans and some civilian supporters with a vision of raising the health and well-being of veterans and their families. We do this primarily through provision of spiritually based pastoral care and education in holistic health. We very much operate from a Wellness model of health, as opposed to the Sickness model that is the norm in our society. We feel the priority of effort must go into promoting Wellness, rather than just treating sickness when people develop acute conditions.

We are a community of Christian people, comprising doctors, psychologists, nurses, chaplains, social workers and pastoral carers. We provide care from a multidisciplinary, spiritually based,   holistic health perspective. We have some representatives here today so could I invite the Veterans Care members here to stand up please.  Dr Ian Marshall , Chaplain Peter Devenish Meares, Psychologist Caitlin Proctor , Mental Health clinician Kirsten Wells, HR advisor Christy Welldon (my Daughter) Our Treasurer Geoff  Fry and Secretary Colin Ahern. Mentor Wayne Smith and Kerry .They would be pleased to chat.

We work with a very large veteran community population in Queensland of about 170,000. About a third of them are travelling okay; about a third of them have various health issues and  get treatment; but about a third of them have serious health issues and neither seek nor  receive  treatment,  other than self medication with alcohol and drugs. Half of them are younger veterans in their 20s and 30s. In the past 9 months we at Veterans Care have had pastoral care engagements with 780 individuals and provided education in holistic health to a further 1530. And we are seeing just a small proportion of those needing help.

Many things challenge our veterans, and most of them have multiple issues.  They have physical injuries; they have mental injuries; moral injuries and relationship difficulties. Many, once medically discharged from the military, lack a sense of identity and purpose. From Enoggera alone 850 were discharged medically unfit last year . They get that dreadful designation of being Totally and Permanently Incapacitated. Imagine having that tag put on you at 25 years of age. They generally don’t seek assistance because of the stigma and embarrassment associated with having a disability, and so their problems compound.  When they do get treatment it is normally piecemeal. We find that many clinicians won’t move out of their disciplinary lane and ask about other aspects of their life.  They don’t address their full holistic needs. Almost every week this year a young veteran has taken their own life; three of them died in one week in April this year.

Why is there a need for an organisation such as Veterans Care. Surely the health system or the Department of Veterans Affairs should be able to meet their needs. And you might imagine the RSL or other groups help by taking Vets on adventure activities . They are helping in discrete ways.

But no other organisation, is providing spiritually based pastoral care to Veterans . And no other organisation is truly holistic and promoting and educating veterans in holistic health. Most programmes treat symptoms, but don’t offer hope of healing and a better life. Indeed Spirituality is specifically excluded  from any government funded programme for Vets.  We think that spirituality is vitally important to health and wellbeing .  Do you agree ?   I hope you do .  But it also must be synthesised with other contributors to health as a package deal .  We are trying to heal veterans , and we are also trying to change the system that excludes truly holistic measures. The way we do it is being embraced by veterans because they are experiencing healing and hope,  rather than just being consigned to a life of medication and treatment .  Let me tell you a parable that explains why we are being successful.

You will see that the symbol of our organisation is that iconic image of a wounded man on a donkey being let along by another. Some might see this as Private Simpson from Gallipoli. Some might also identify this image with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Who remembers that story ?-  a number of people come by,  but only one is able to help him. Can I share with you a modern version of that Parable –

A veteran finds himself in deep dark hole …..He has physical injuries, mental injuries,  relationship difficulties . He is a mess . His family  calls out for help . Along comes a doctor . The doctor is concerned for him and gives him some advice on the need for exercise and nutrition; he even gives him medication to dull the pain. The veteran takes the advice and tries to climb out of the hole but just can’t do it, on the doctors advice alone . He sinks back into despair. The doctor sends a psychologist along to see him. The psychologist  gives him some good advice on mindfulness and correcting his thinking , and the veteran takes that on board and tries to get out of the hole , gets a bit further but still cant get out and slips back into the darkness.  The psychologists advice alone cant get him out . The psychologist  calls a chaplain . He looks on him with compassion and prays with him, even gives him a Bible to read. The veteran starts praying and then tries to get out again , almost gets to the top but slides back into the darkness.  The padre’s advice alone cant get him out of the hole.  The padre calls Veterans Care, and two other veterans come along – Caitlin and Kirsten here . They yell out : hang on mate we are coming down to help you . The veteran in the hole says – don’t come down here – you wont able able to get out . They say, Its OK, we’ve already been down there and we worked  out how to get out. They get down to him, give him a hug , light a candle  and Kirsten says  to him. “All the advice you’ve been given is helpful and you need to embrace all of it.  Caitlin says, “Even then ,  it’s still hard to get out of the hole, and stay out, on your own . You need to let others help you , and then you need to become a helper yourself” . They get him out of the hole and into the sunlight and they introduce him to the wider Veterans Care community team. They offer him some training in becoming a carer and his life takes on a new purpose.

Friends , that’s what we are on about! Synthesising faith, by acts of mercy, with the best holistic medicine can offer and empowering people to help others.

Why do we do this? We are inspired and moved by Jesus declaration in Luke chapter 4 –  itself drawn from Isaiah chapter 61:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us… for he has anointed us to bring good news to the afflicted,  to proclaim liberty to captives, to bring new sight to the blind, to set the downtrodden free,  and proclaim the Lords favour.

How did this come about? Michael spoke briefly on this but let me share my own veteran story.  I have been supporting veterans as a chaplain for the last 22 years.

I had been supported myself by various practitioners over the years for the many health problems that I have had. I had also been doing lots of funerals for veterans that were dying much earlier than they I should have, from cancer or suicide. And then I almost died myself, from cancer and from peritonitis.  It took me to confront death yet again, in a hospital, rather than a battlefield, and to do my own research , to realise that for Veterans to restore health and stay healthy,  a whole range of things needed to be synthesised and  integrated to maintain a healthy lifestyle after the rigours of life in the military. Despite being diagnosed with PTSD 25 years ago , nobody had ever offered a holistic approach.

I was challenged to write a book – Duntroon  to Dili – weve got some of them here and you are welcome  to take a copy. It’s about my experience and the experience of many other veterans. Archbishop Mark Coleridge  helped me launch the book – he says in the foreword , “this is a story of God in the midst of the human mess…this book will help others to tell their story and see God at the heart of it …”    He also appointed me to be chaplain for the veteran community. We formed an association with a small group of carers and have just grown and grown, now to a group of about 60 volunteer supporters.

We engage veterans and their families and encourage them to develop a well-being plan with spirituality is one of the key aspects of that plan. But our fundamental strategy is simply one of love – going out looking for lost sheep , and loving people where they are at , and  affirming them in their goodness,  and encourage them to know they are loved by God and are able to love others, and themselves.

You have heard Michael talk about our comprehensive rehabilitation program for veterans – The Timor Awakening.   The RSL has given us some seed funding for the first 20 participants,  but after that we need to seek additional sponsors.  We have already about 100 needy veterans  interested to do this. We will get no Govt funding – we rely on other Good Samaritans like yourselves .  And we going forward in faith .

Today we ask you to consider supporting veterans who need your help.  These young men and women really need your help. We can’t do this without you. Please could you prayerfully consider a gift of sponsorship. Your gift will also give you membership of our association,  and we will update you regularly on the importance and the impact on your donation. Indeed you will become a veteran carer yourself. Every gift no matter how small or large is meaningful. We call it money for mission.  Weve provided gift giving sheets you can fill in ,and have an eftpos machine at the back. Thank you for caring for veterans.

There are plenty of needy veterans out there.  I appeal to you again : would you support people like this in getting a new opportunity to reimagine their lives and experience the love of God. We know that faith is a vital component of health, and can work in complete unison and harmony with medicine.  And the more success we achieve the more we can transform society and its approach to God and spirituality.

Why should we do this? Because God tells us to.   Friends can you declare  with me the inspiration scripture that you have on the sheet in front of you:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us for he has anointed us to bring good news to the afflicted,  to proclaim liberty to captives, to bring new sight to the blind,  to set the downtrodden free,  and proclaim the Lords favour .  AMEN .

Thank you Lord Mayor , thank you Mission Australia and those that have organised this event. Thanks you all – brothers n sisters in Christ.   May God bless you.  Peace be with you.

New veterans’ rehabilitation program in Timor

Article originally published in the Catholic Leader 14 April, 2016. Written by Mark Bowling

New veterans’ rehabilitation program in Timor to combat “health crisis” and increased suicide rates with spirituality

HUNDREDS of Australian veterans are expected to travel to Timor Leste as part of a unique rehabilitation program with spirituality at its core.

The 12-month program, called Timor Awakening, is taking aim at a “health crisis” amongst young Australian veterans, who suffer from a frightening suicide rate.

RSL Queensland has RSL Qld has agreed to sponsor the first 20 participants in the programme which will eventually expand to 200 veterans and their families.

It will include an 11-day Timor Leste trip during which the Australian vets will visit sites of historical wartime interest, and team up with Timorese veterans and their families.  (more…)

Timor in hearts and minds

Article originally published in the Townsville Bulletin 14 April, 2016 at 8.33am.

IN the years after World War II, Australian Sparrow Force veterans regularly returned to Dili in Timor to help locals who supported them in 1942.

It’s about 720km from Darwin, the same distance from Rockhampton to Townsville.

Mostly veterans of the 2/2nd Independent Commando Company, gunners, engineers, medics and Tasmania’s 2/40th Infantry Battalion, part of Australia’s tragically doomed 8th Division, these men took part in an annual pilgrimage to return to the gallant Timorese a little of the support given to them at great cost.

Around August each year they would gather at Darwin’s Larrakeyah Barracks to fly by RAAF aircraft to Dili airport which they had clandestinely observed from the hills to the south at Dare.

There the Timorese provided sanctuary while the Australian and Dutch soldiers reported on Japanese movements from the airstrip just kilometres away by line of sight. (more…)

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