Caring for Families in Crisis

DEACON Gary Stone and his team from Veterans’ Care Association work around a lounge room table, in a Kelvin Grove house that doubles as an office and a drop-in centre.

Deacon Stone is chaplain to the veteran and ex-services community, and since VCA was set up 18 months ago, there’s been a rapidly growing demand for their services, which include holistic health education and individual assistance.

The work has expanded to include caring for families of veterans in crisis.

Brisbane archdiocese has the highest concentration of veterans in Australia, with 70,000 living here, or approximately 25 per cent of all veterans nationally, and from Department of Veteran Affairs figures, 35,000 of these experience some form of disability as a result of their service.

Today, 30,000 young veterans from recent conflicts live in the archdiocese, and for many of this group healing the unseen wounds of war and settling back into civilian life and family settings presents a daily struggle.

Almost every week one young veteran commits suicide.

The CVA team of veterans Deacon Stone, his son Michael, Veterans services co-ordinator and ex-army nurse Kirsten Wells and RAAF provisional psychologist, Dianne Rogers, are preparing a shortlist of participants for the next veteran trip to East Timor, part of a holistic health intervention program for veterans taking aim at post traumatic stress disorder.

Deacon Stone speaks about the program called Timor Awakening, which is funded by RSL Queensland.

It’s a year-long holistic health and wellbeing program for veterans, with a 10-day trip to East Timor as its centrepiece.

The trip builds camaraderie between veterans, offers care and support, and engagement with the Timorese people, especially their own former guerrilla fighters and veterans.

The feedback from more than 40 participants during two trips so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

Former infantryman, Kev Neal from Warwick posted this reflection on social media: “… finally see how our help has let this country grow and develop into the free and happy country it is.”
“… on my trip made it easier for me to get the closure and the feeling of accomplishment from my service in Timor Leste.”

Deacon Stone said the program was open to anyone who has served in the military or police.

Support: The Veterans’ Care Association team of Deacon Gary Stone, Michael Stone, Kirsten Wells and Dianne Rogers meeting at their office.

Support: The Veterans’ Care Association team of Deacon Gary Stone, Michael Stone, Kirsten Wells and Dianne Rogers meeting at their office.

That includes Vietnam veterans – the group which first brought PTSD to the attention of the Australian public, including the high rates of ex-service suicides compared to the general population.

“Timor is just the setting for the circuit breaking part of the program. So using a history that goes beyond any contemporary veterans – including Vietnam veterans,” he said.

“To my mind the essential issue is hope. For a long time veterans and their families have felt despair and abandonment because the treatment arrangements for them have not delivered desired outcomes.

“Classic medication or cognitive behavior therapy is not helping most people. We have a more comprehensive range of treatments, most of which is called psycho-social – people helping people.

“It’s the good Samaritan story – one wounded digger helping another. It gets people going.

“We’ve cottoned on to a holistic approach of treatment delivered by veterans themselves which has been well received and is reaching some positive consequences for them.”

The resources come from RSL Queensland, with the program developed and delivered by VCA and Deacon Stone – who draws on his own extensive military service in overseas campaigns including Iran-Iraq, East Timor, Bougainville, the Asian tsunami, Solomon Islands and East Timor.

Son Michael Stone is a former army major, who was considered the army’s “fix it” man in East Timor.

“Ex service people will listen to other ex-service people. Michael and I both got diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress, we’ve been in the dark hole so we know what it is like for them, whereas if they go to a civilian psychologist or psychiatrist and they don’t reveal what is really going on, they don’t trust them or they are not ready to reveal,” Deacon Stone said.

“It is the coming back, the reintegrating into life that’s difficult.

“Veteran suicide happens when they haven’t got hope. Either they are not in touch with God, or feel they can’t be forgiven.

“I tell them ‘God loves you’ and you can be forgiven.

“God made you for a purpose, and you have purpose yet. There’s nothing God can’t do.”

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge is an enthusiastic supporter of the Veterans Care Association.

He has encouraged every Catholic agency, parish and school to find ways to honour veterans and their families during DVA Veterans Health Week which runs from October 23-30.

There will be a Veterans Health Week Stall in the grounds of St Stephens Cathedral on Tuesday, October 25 from 11am to 2pm.

Article written by Mark Bowling. It was featured on the Catholic Leader Website 24/10/16 Click here to see the original article. 

Good News in Veterans Care October Edition

img_8376We are celebrating an amazing year of support to Veterans and their families in 2016. Please join us for our two remaining gathered events of the year to hear details of our achievements:

  • Timor Awakening workshop – 10:00-13:00, Sat 22 Oct at Mates4Mates Douglas St Milton;
  • VCA AGM and Christmas party – 11:00-13:00, Sun 20 Nov at Kookaburra Café , Given Tce Paddington

Our second Timor immersion experience was very well received by participants.

Comments include:

“I felt a sense of release everyday with every experience”

“I have struggled for 15 years with a lot of demons before this trip- now ‘I’m free of them ”

“Extremely loving and supporting environment. I come home a different, richer person”

“I use to blame everyone else, now I can forgive myself”

“Staff were amazing and did a great job making me feel valued and supported”

img_8342“Timor Awakening is such a proper name for this experience. It awoke my senses again, brought me joy, laughter and a sense of pride”
We learned and adjusted from our first experience and had more time for reflection, less travel and more quality engagement with the Timorese.

We thank our leader Michael and the team of Kirsten, Bob, Merryn, Wayne and myself who facilitated this experience, but the real work was done by participants who opened themselves up for healing and dared to risk revealing their demons to the Light.

We continue to be amazed and inspired by the Timorese who display such faith, hope and love, persistence, resilience and forgiveness.

We are currently discerning participants for TA3 which has a Timor immersion19Feb–1Mar17.

img_8355At VCA in SEQLD we continue to be engaged with many community events. Coming up we have the:

  • Homeless Vets Sleepout at Dorrington Park on Sat 15 Oct,
  • DVA Veterans Health Week Stall in StStephens Cathedral grounds on Tues 25 Oct from 1100-1400.

At our request Archbishop Mark has asked every Catholic agency, parish and school to do something to honour veterans and their families during the week 23-30 Oct.

Regular holistic health education continues to Soldier Recovery Centre courses and Junior Leaders courses as well as various other church and social groups.

See our latest activity on our VCA and Timor Awakening Facebook pages.

Our office and drop in centre is fully functional at 2 Victoria Park Rd , Kelvin Grove. Please drop in to see us.

Thank you all for your support, especially major sponsors RSL Qld and RSL Care, but including all who receive this.

Your annual $25 subscriptions (due now) and other donations all add up to helping families recover from distress.

For the love of God and our neighbours in need, yours in gratitude. Peace be with you.

Kind regards,

Gary Stone

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

The Care of Veterans

From the experiences of Chaplain Gary Stone and many others

This resource is produced as a guide for Veterans , their families and other carers, to better understand health, disease, and healing in the veterans context. Our experience is that if we can choose to be proactive in a holistic health programme, we can counter distress, develop resilience, and maintain wellbeing, and look forward in hope.


All who serve their nation in the Defence Force, Police or Emergency services will experience consequences to their health and wellbeing as a result. Their families will also experience consequences and may struggle to comprehend what is going on in the life of their loved ones. Whilst in uniform, a range of support services and mutual support is readily available, and various safety nets can catch people  struggling with issues before they become acute.

Once discharged from active service, the Veteran and their family, must take self- responsibility for their health and wellbeing , and be quite intentional in maintaining a healthy life.  This need to self- manage health and wellbeing is not well understood , and we have seen  that many veterans do not fully understand the key ingredients of a healthy life. Their service life has been underpinned by systemic safeguards involving  regular medical checks , enforced exercise, disciplined routines, and monitored behaviour.   All this disappears on leaving the service.

The issue of Veterans Health is quite complex. Most veterans have experienced wounds, illness or injury to their bodies, minds, souls and relationships. Added to this is the conundrum of discovering a new identity, life purpose, and community of belonging, once they leave the service.  Moreover all of these components impact and interact with each other, which can lead to escalating experiences of distress, and inappropriate coping measures normally involving self- medication with alcohol or drugs. Addictive responses compound the problems and people’s life can become chaotic.

This resource seeks to provide information on:

  • The complexity of health issues for Veterans and their families.
  • Understanding stress, distress and post- traumatic stress and co-mordid illnesses.
  • Healing, growth and developing resilience through a Health and Wellbeing Plan.
  • The challenges of relapse and need for commitment.
  • Practical measures to nurture body, mind, soul, and relationships.
  • Developing a future life purpose, involving care for others.

A personal reflection – The experiences of life are great teachers.

Over many years as a Chaplain to the Royal Australian Regiment Association and as a member of the RSL , I  received too many notices of the death of veterans, mostly from cancer, and some from suicide, but dying well before the age that they should have the lived to. Like others in the veterans community, the early passing of these friends saddened me, but I did not consider that much could be done about it. Many of these men had struggled for many years with a plethora of other health issues stemming from their military service.

Then in September 2012, at age 60, I received a diagnosis that I had cancer. To say I was shocked is an understatement. I have always maintained a very fit and active life. I have never smoked. I have never even been drunk, though I enjoy couple of glasses of red wine of an evening and an occasional beer. There is no history of cancer in my family. My parents and grandparents lived into their 90s. After biopsies were taken, the doctor indicated to me that my cancer was growing aggressively and indeed would soon be inoperable and that I would be dead soon after without immediate surgery. Indeed from a medical perspective, surgery was the only response offered to me. The powerlessness of waiting for surgery and the fear that cancer could be growing in other places prompted me to get to understand more what is going on inside my body, and see what I could do to help myself.

I am open to complementary therapies and a range of tests conducted by a naturopath, remedial masseur and reflexologist identified that my body was highly acidic, that my liver and kidneys were clogged with toxins, and that my body was deficient in a number of vitamins and minerals as well as the “feel good” Serotonin hormone. I prayed for God’s guidance, and started searching the Internet for articles about cancer and its causes. After reading numerous books, and meeting cancer survivors who had utilised a range of complementary therapies I became aware of a range of healthy living recommendations that I previously had no awareness of. This gave me hope, and lifted my spirits.

I became more aware of how interconnected the body, mind and soul are, in terms of health. Like many other veterans, I had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following my service in the Iran Iraq war. Doctors then, prescribed medication and cognitive behaviour therapy. These treatments helped manage the symptoms of anxiety and depression, but these did little to diminish hyper-vigilance, hyper-arousal and hyper-activity. These had become a feature of my life. I also had a range of other physical problems that got worse whenever I was under stress. I came to realise that accumulated stress was killing me!

What I was to learn through my own research was that my PTSD symptoms were releasing cortisol and causing inflammation in my body, immobilising my immune system and allowing cancer to grow. At the same time a diet with too much sugar, wheat and dairy products was clogging up my digestive system causing me to put on weight and develop a range of other illnesses. The distress of anxiety saw me living with a “battlefield in my mind” that spilled over into my body and soul, and saw me react inappropriately at times with those around me.

As a Chaplain of course I have ministered to many people with a whole range of problems, but I was also aware of how disparate and parochial the various health providers can be, particularly in dismissing alternate or complementary therapies, and how most veterans with multiple health issues were not getting integrated care plans. Moreover, involvement with some health care providers focused on “treatments” for immediate symptoms with less emphasis on preventative health measures – promoting wellness into the future. I became convinced that a coordinated holistic approach to health was needed, starting with myself, and my taking responsibility for my own part in rehabilitation and restoration of  wellness.

Following surgery, (and a near death experience with Peritonitis caused by accidental rupture of my bowel in the surgery) I am now clear of cancer for the time being, but I am conscious that I must take “intentional” steps to provide for my future health and avoid cancer appearing somewhere else. I look forward to the future with some hope that I might be able to not only live a little bit longer myself, but also through sharing this information with others I might able to make a contribution to the improvement of veterans health generally. Adopting a self-managed holistic programme I have lost 12 kg, regaining and sustaining a fighting weight of 80 kg that I had as a 30 year old company commander, and I feel the healthiest I’ve been in 20 years.

I have had to ‘re-balance” and “re- create” a healthy lifestyle that involves less work , minimizes distress, and incorporates more self care for my body, mind and soul.

The complexity  of the challenges  facing veterans.

Many veterans have had years of exposure to an accumulation of stress, distress and trauma, both physical and mental as well as wounds to the soul involving guilt and shame . The turbulence of soldiering on families has often impacted in broken and troubled relationships. This domestic stress adds to operational stress, and compounds people’s problems. It causes the release of too much cortisol into our systems. Pride and ego cause us to want to “soldier on” despite our disease, in the vain illusion that we can tough it out and we’ll get through this maze of problems. But our bodies minds and souls are little different to the vehicles and equipment that we spent countless hours servicing and maintaining in the military. We need maintenance, repair, and sometimes even a rebuild , but we don’t seem to realize this until we breakdown completely!

In addition to a plethora of more obvious physical injuries to backs, knees and feet, a growing number of veterans have undiagnosed and untreated psychological illnesses , which manifest in secondary issues of degraded workplace performance, sleep disorders, poor dietary practices, obesity and addictions including alcohol, sex  and drug abuse and consequential outcomes involving loss of jobs and criminality.

Unfortunately a stigma associated with mental health, sees most people with psychological or moral injury  issues attempting to mask these issues. Even family or friends will not generally be aware of the “submerged” issues that some people have. Evidence indicates that many veterans have experienced physical or sexual abuse as a child and the trauma of these experiences resurfaces in traumatic experience in the military.   It is difficult  to identify a genuinely “wounded soul” or to know how to respond. Traumatised people camouflage their pain with masks of normalcy, whilst being chaotic internally. Withdrawal from society is also a common response, where a person deteriorates without others knowing. The reality is that veterans wounded in body, mind and soul and can slip into a victim mentality, angry with others and the world, and can, unintentionally,  hurt those that love them and try to help them.

Some veterans don’t trust medical systems and will rarely present themselves for treatment. People don’t know what they don’t know, and don’t understand what is going on in them. In this unknowing, they can choose inappropriate responses or miss out on simple therapies and behaviours that would help them. We at Veterans Care seek to provide the education and information that can assist all involved.

Understanding stress , distress and post traumatic stress (PTS) reactions

Most veteran’s health issues have their sources in the additional stress that service life entails. An understanding of what happens to veterans can assist in countering distress, developing resilience and maintaining wellbeing.

Stress, and the memories of past trauma, tenses our muscles, deposits toxins in our bodies, and can build up to chronic levels which impacts on the body’s immune system and can become life threatening. Stress assists in improving performance initially, but sustained or intense stress leads to distress whereupon performance starts to degrade, leading us to anxiety and depression, and tempting us to self medicate with alcohol or drug abuse. Secondary outcomes can be anger, violence, withdrawal, relationship conflicts and suicide.

The physiological impact of stress in the body includes adrenalin release to stimulate our muscles, heighten our awareness, accentuating hyper-vigilance and increased heart rate as the body prepares for fight and flight. This is a natural inbuilt survival mechanism . Cortisol is released to shut down other body functions, so the muscles can fight. This is useful if we really have to fight physically, but otherwise leads to distress when we don’t. The physiological outcomes of distress include serotonin depletion (our “feel good” hormone), survival responses, mental overload, confused thinking, performance degradation, and physical exhaustion. We become vulnerable to a range of infections and other health problems from a degraded immune system.

Experience of a life threatening event and/ or sustained exposure to distress can bring about a permanent automatically triggerable distress response (also known as PTSD). Normal bodily functioning is reprogrammed to be ‘on alert “for further life threatening events indefinitely. The physiological outcomes of post traumatic stress include sustained hyper-vigilance, hyperarousal, and hyper-sensitivity. In the absence of any actual stressors, sights, sounds, experiences and smells similar to those experienced in earlier life threatening events, trigger hormonal releases in the brain and vital organs. The body sub consciously and autonomically reacts to these triggers, via the amygdala in our brain, that shuts out the frontal cortex’s logical thinking and readies the body for perceived life threatening attack, moving it into fight or flight mode. The individual starts re experiencing the fear / anger / guilt etc associated with earlier events. Repeated stress reactions overload the vital organs with cortisol, immobilizing the immune system.

Education/awareness of this process can assist the individual in taking counter strategies to calm the physiological response and limit the wash of cortisol into the system, before the symptoms become acute.  But persistent (and unchecked ) PTS reactions, particularly when actual new stressors affect the person , exhaust the body and expose it to the development of the illnesses of anxiety ( worrying about the future ) and depression ( grieving the past) , which have a debilitating life of their own . In the absence of hope or spiritual frameworks, the person experiences wounded-ness of the soul, where life ceases to have meaning, the person loses a sense of identity and purpose, and indeed the will to live.

Years of stress responses manifest in breakdowns in many of the body’s systems and premature chronic illnesses and death. Yes stress is a killer, and is wounding many more service people than bombs or bullets on the battlefield.

Post traumatic Healing, Growth and developing Resilience, through a “Well being” regime.

As a result of our research, we believe veterans need:

  • to be educated to the nature of the health challenges they face, understand the threat components and the need to develop counter strategies
  • to be encouraged to choose to proactively attend to their health through holistic actions
  • to care for their bodies through a good diet, exercise, rest and recreation
  • to care for their minds by minimising negative inputs and exposure to “distressors”, and optimise stress reduction strategies
  • to care for their souls by embracing nourishing world views and spiritual practices
  • to nurture their relationships through intentional acts of love and improved communication
  • to develop a future life purpose that involves helping others in need
  • to maintain an ongoing holistic “Wellbeing” regime in daily life.

The Veterans Care Association promotes the development of a Personal Health and Wellbeing plan. An example template is included at the end of this document .

A suggested and proven “Wellbeing” regime involves a range of components – in summary:

Nurturing  for the body

  • Exercise daily to release endorphins and produce more serotonin hormone.
  • Whenever distressed, reduce a runaway heart rate with deep slow breathing and meditation.
  • Eat regular and appropriate foods – particularly fresh fruit and vegetables, drink lots of water, and minimize alcohol and caffeine (which acts as a depressant in large quantities),
  • Avoid processed and fatty foods, and cut out sugar in all its forms.
  • See your doctor when /if you experience anxiety or depressive symptoms
  • Be open to the complementary therapies of chiropractic, therapeutic massage and reflexology, to release tension and restore energy flow through the systems of the body.
  • Be open to taking prescribed medication , e.g. Zoloft. It is not addictive and helps in stabilising mood.
  • Avoid inappropriate self- medication with alcohol or non-prescription drugs
  • READ ALSO – Caring for the Body

Nurturing for the mind

  • Be open to learning cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) – conduct a mental reality check
  • Be open to seeing a clinical psychologist or social worker
  • Recognise and avoid all unnecessary negative inputs to your life.
  • Remove yourself from persistently stressful environments and individuals
  • Be a “good finder “– name daily all the good things you see in life (journalling is best)
  • Read uplifting and nourishing stories and teachings.
  • Learn to relax muscles and breathe deeply, to re-engage your frontal cortex logical thinking.
  • Become attentive and “mindful” of the present moment and your pleasant and safe surroundings.
  • READ ALSO – Caring for the Mind

Nurturing for the soul

  • Find and embrace a spirituality or “World view “ that is life giving.
  • Be open to the advice of chaplains / wise teachers / mentors.
  • Be open to discovering and trusting in God or a “higher power” to assist you in life.
  • Share your experiences with friends and be open to mutual support
  • Practice meditation to get in touch with your soul.
  • Treat yourself to soothing music that will nurture your soul.
  • Be open to asking for forgiveness for things you may have done wrong
  • READ ALSO – Caring for the soul

Nurturing relationships

  • Invest significant time and resources in key relationships.
  • Be humble and forgiving to those you have fallen out with.
  • Let go of past grudges and grievances.
  • Become a better “lover” by words, acts of service, human touch and  gifting.
  • Become a better listener and communicate cleanly.
  • Engage in team/group activities – e.g. sporting clubs , interest groups

Developing a future life purpose

  • Identify ways that you can bring care and joy to others.
  • Join a local ex service organisation
  • Consider training to develop skills to assist as a carer or welfare officer

Choosing to be healthy and having sustained commitment

Desiring to be healthy, like desiring to lose weight, is easier said than done. Preferably we won’t have to have a “cancer scare “ to jerk us into sustained action, but most people reading this far probably already know they have problems to address, and hopefully this information will assist in making appropriate choices. We may need a coach or mentor, perhaps our partner, to help us get onto, and stay on, a healthy pathway.

Research indicates that it takes from at least 28 days to many months, to change behaviours and my experience is that if we can show that amount of commitment and patience – we will in time see measurable results, like loss of excess weight, better sleep and a calmer mind, which will give us the encouragement to keep at it.

It is also realistic to be aware that relapse into past unhealthy behaviours, is most likely, particularly if we have reached addictive level of response. In cases of addiction , professional assistance and rehabilitation will normally be necessary.  Many veterans and family members have benefited from group support programmes like AA and AlAnon. Abstinence for at least 28 days is a good target in breaking out of addiction.


We, or our loved ones, get sick and “dis-eased” because we have chosen or let, stressful or toxic environments to affect our body, mind and soul. While stress and distress are normal elements of life, when experienced in the extreme they will have debilitating consequences, affecting our whole person.

Rather than just react to sickness when it occurs, a better way to live life is through a wellness model where we intentionally promote healthy living practices to avoid disease.

To develop resilience for future stressful situations, we must examine the way we nurture or abuse our body mind and soul, and make choices and commitments to engage in wellbeing practices as a matter of daily living .Upon experiencing distressing situations, we must recognize the potential for illness, and initiate wellbeing strategies immediately.

The Veterans Care Association is committed to raising the health and wellbeing of veterans and their families .

The range of support we offer can be found on our website   Contact us on 0403270515 or at, or visit us at our office and Drop-in Centre at 2 Victoria Park Rd , Kelvin Grove 4509.

May peace be with you
Your Chaplain,
Gary Stone


Gary  served continuously in the Army from 1970, with 26 years as an infantryman and 22 years as a chaplain. He  deployed on operations to Malaysia, Fiji Coup, Iran-Iraq, East Timor, Bougainville, Asian Tsunami, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste. He lives in The Gold Coast hinterland near Mt Tambourine with his wife Lynne. Their two sons Michael and Paul are also Army officers with extensive operational experience in Timor Leste.


Message from the Archbishop

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this Year of Mercy, I am writing to all Catholic parishes, schools and agencies and ask your consideration for a special acknowledgement to be afforded to veterans and their families in the Archdiocese during the week 22 – 30 October. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has recently gazetted this as Veterans’ Health Week and wish to promote a theme of “social connection” for veterans to be embraced by the wider community.

On Anzac Day the Archdiocese has given due honour and recognition to those who have made the supreme sacrifice, but less attention is given to those who have served in our military, police, and emergency services, but still suffer as a result of their service. The Archdiocese has the highest concentration of veterans in Australia, with 70,000 living here, approximately 25% of all veterans nationally, and from DVA figures, some 35,000 of these experience some form of disability as a result of their service. Some 30,000 young veterans of very recent conflicts live among us in the Archdiocese. For them the war never ends, as they watch with despair as Afghanistan and Iraq decline into anarchy, into war without end. Almost every week one young veteran commits suicide.

All parishes have veterans, and most Catholic schools have children of veterans and every Catholic agency supports veterans or their families, but their veteran status might go unnoticed. In healing the wounds of war and conflict and the frequent disintegration of family life subsequently, intentional prayer, recognition and appreciation can play a big part. In solidarity with veterans and their families, I would ask that the Archdiocese acknowledge Veterans’ Health Week with the following possible responses:

  • Parishes acknowledge veterans at Mass on Sunday 23 October with some intercessions for veterans and their families;
  • Catholic schools acknowledge children of veterans and explore veteran issues in projects during the week of 24 – 28 October;
  • Catholic agencies, especially hospitals, nursing homes and care facilities, identify and acknowledge their veteran clients during Veterans’ Health Week. Our chaplain to the ex-service community Deacon Gary Stone and his staff at the Veterans’ Care Association ( will assist with resources or materials. DVA will also provide grants of up to $750 to any community organisation who host a function honouring veterans and their families. Veterans’ Care staff would like to hear of the activities planned to make the veteran community aware and would appreciate it if you could please email details to:

I commend the work of the Veterans’ Care Association. They are a community of committed Catholic veterans, working voluntarily and relying on sponsorship for resources to minister to our veterans. Perhaps some activities this week could assist in sponsorship of veterans in their rehabilitation programmes.

Your graciousness in responding mercifully will be greatly appreciated by our veterans and their families and will show the face of compassion to the wider community.


As always in the Lord,

Archbishop of Brisbane

Good News from Veterans Care

Dear  Friends,

As you read this we are about to deploy on our second Timor immersion. We have 22 participants and six staff , that will join a similar number of Timorese veterans in country.

We welcome to our team Wayne Smith as our Admin Co-ordinator and Merryn Thomae and Bob Breen as Pastoral Carers.

Special thanks to Michael and Kirsten for many hours of preparation to get this programme running. Thanks also to Stewart Cameron, Scott Denner and all at RSL Qld for funding this programme.

We will be tailoring this trip to have more reflection time and more informal engagement with the Timorese.

Apart from Timor Awakening, the work of VCA continues to grow and expand with continuing requests to provide holistic health education and numerous requests for individual assistance. We are continuing to grow our membership and volunteer base, as well as our strategic partnerships.

Recently we have been working with mates4mates, Toowong Private hospital , Brisbane Catholic Education, Knights of the Southern Cross and Vietnam Veterans Federation. RSL Care is a major sponsor in funding our staff expenses and many other donors have assisted with gifts.

Your care is supporting many veterans and their families.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge is a major supporter, recently writing to all Catholic schools, hospitals, parishes and other church agencies, asking them to support veterans with special recognition during Veterans Health Week 22-30 October. He also said ” I commend the work of the Veterans Care Association. They are a community of committed veterans, working voluntarily to minister to our veterans… Your graciousness in supporting them would be greatly appreciated.”  Thanks Archbishop Mark .

Please pray for us as we travel through Timor 17-28 September. This is challenging work, but absolutely beneficial. Our next gatherings are on Sat 22 Oct at 11:00 at mates4mates Milton for a Timor Awakening workshop, on Sun 20 Nov at 12:00 at Kookaburra Cafe Paddington for our VCA AGM and Christmas function, and our annual retreat at Andelaine, Natural Bridge from 7:00pm Fri 25 Nov to 1:00pm Sun 27 Nov. All are welcome.


Thanks for your support. Peace be with you.


Kind regards,


Gary Stone

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

An East Timor Experience

Ex-serviceman Dwayne Cashman returned to East Timor, this time as a Tourist

Most people go on holiday to lounge about in the sun, but Dwayne Cashman, of Wynyard, took a 10-day tour in East Timor to see how a country had recovered and transformed from its war-torn past.

Serving two tours in the country in support against the anti-independence militia in the late 90s, Mr Cashman described a country that was facing violence, lawlessness and general terror.

This time around though, Mr Cashman and a group of 20 veterans got to see a developed and functioning country.

“A lot of the communities and school are back up running back to normal and kids are getting about in uniforms with a smile on their face,” Mr Cashman said.

Supported by the Queensland RSL, the group were transported around to areas they had served in where they were received with songs, parades and presents before mingling with the community.

“It was good rehabilitation,” Mr Cashman said.

Brothers in arms: Ex-servicemen Belinda Johnstone, Nichols Hodge from the 2nd Batallion Royal Australia Regiment (2RAR), Dylon Fraser from the 2RAR, Andrew Woodhouse from the 2RAR and Dwayne Cashman with East-Timorese soldiers.

Brothers in arms: Ex-servicemen Belinda Johnstone, Nichols Hodge from the 2nd Batallion Royal Australia Regiment (2RAR), Dylon Fraser from the 2RAR, Andrew Woodhouse from the 2RAR and Dwayne Cashman with East-Timorese soldiers.

Testament to the healing nature of the visit, many of Mr Cashman’s travel companions came home with a view to go back again.

“A lot of them want to go back over and see if they can help their soldiers  and get out to other parts of East Timor where there are more Veterans,” he said.

Received warmly, Mr Cashman said the gratitude went both ways.

“In token we wanted to thank them for what they have done in their own country and for themselves,” he said.

With post traumatic stress disorder rife in the ex-servicemen community, visits to war zones in times of peace can help by offering a sense of closure.

“We got to see it with full eyes. We hadn’t seen it in peace time not like it is now. We were overwhelmed,” he said.

While the travelling schedule was tight, the group took every opportunity to mingle with the local kids, play sport and share a few laughs with mates.

Reunion:Former president Jose Ramos-Horta and Dwayne Cashman. Mr Cashman served as a guard at Mr Ramos -Horta's home.

Reunion:Former president Jose Ramos-Horta and Dwayne Cashman. Mr Cashman served as a guard at Mr Ramos -Horta’s home.

Having acted as a personal guard to former president Jose Ramos Horta’s home, Mr Cashman and his fellow travellers were invited in to his residence once again and treated with drinks and food, and a pat of the resident deer, as a thank you.

Article first appeared in The Advocate (Tasmania). Written by Baz Ruddick. See full story here.

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.


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