Good News in Veterans Care – April 2021

Dear friends,  
I hope and pray that you might have a happy Easter season sharing the love of friends and family, and our love to you too, from the team at Veterans Care Association. Im mindful as I write this that COVID continues to disrupt our lives and the spectre of veteran suicide has been a dark cloud hovering over us. But despite that we can still be people of HOPE. I have written an Easter Reflection on that theme below, “Live in Hope – this too will pass”, and the Sun/Son is always shining above the clouds.  
Many good things have happened in recent months and in this newsletter we will cover:

  • TA 15 on the Gold Coast, 26 February to 7 March 2021.
  • Input to the National Commissioner for preventing veterans suicide.
  • Staff development and future hopes.
  • TA16 21 to 29 August 2021.
  • Hopes for Timor-Leste.
  • Easter Reflection.
  • Thanks to our sponsors.
  • A Big Thankyou letter from a veteran who considers our intervention has saved his life.

TA 15  was an outstanding success,  involving 20 participants and covering the widest range of health and well-being topics that we have ever embraced. Once again it was wonderful to see how people coming on the program with significant health issues, including suicidal ideation, were wrapped in the warm embrace of peer support mentoring and concluded the program with hopes and plans for a positive future. The pictures and the smiles on faces can tell the story better than words. The fundamental  approach of focusing on health and well-being rather than focusing on trauma continues to be proven as a desirable paradigm to be embraced across our veterans community. A comprehensive program report for TA15 and previous programs can be found at https://www.timorawakening.com
Thanks must go to Michael Stone for his innovative design and leadership, Col Ahern for his comprehensive administration and support plan, and to our peer support mentors Mick Lay, Scott McAndrew and our first partner mentor, Lavina Salter for your contributions. Ro Langan, Candice Carroll and Michael Albrecht made niche contributions before, during and after.   

When asked how they were  feeling on day 9 in comparison to how they were feeling before the program, participants responded:

  • “Wow such a comparison, I feel energized and ready to enhance my next journey and the skills given to me.”
  • “I’ve been challenged; I’ve been encouraged, and I’ve been informed and educated.”
  • “Coming onto the program I was flat, tired and coming out of an episode of depression. At the end of the program, I feel energized, educated and motivated.”
  • “I am feeling centered and calm. I feel I am starting to find some purpose again.”
  • “I feel a lot more mentally clear. A lot of the anguish and suffering I have been burdened with has finished as a result of this program.”
  • “Less anxious, fitter, healthier and with a more positive outlook.””A great amount of improvement in mind, body and soul.”   
  • “I’m empowered with new knowledge, challenged to make changes for a better health, mind relationship.
  • “Peaceful as I had the chance to let go of stuff that was holding me back!”

The feedback from participants of TA15 was positive and appreciative for the opportunity to experience profound growth and healing. Through professional mentoring and guidance, together with the extensive peer to peer therapy, Timor Awakening 15 offered an experience uniquely different to other programs available for veterans. The multitude of activities created a bonded group that will remain connected through each other’s journey of healing and growth. The overarching theme of hope and purpose was a feature throughout dozens of activities. 

By attending the program veterans have elected to participate in their own rescue, taking responsibility for the life they want. The program is intensive and obliges participants to be active in a peer group, whilst facilitating reflection time and individual mentoring. A range of stimulating activities and environments provide fertile ground for healing, growth and development. Our veteran facilitators, who are active participants on each program, demonstrate the value of becoming a healer of others and are examples that post traumatic growth is possible. The end state of Timor Awakening is to have inspired and informed veterans empowered with tools for positive change and linked to the array of veteran resources available in Australia. The program continues to develop with higher efficacy which is passed through participants into the wider veteran community to create an impact on a larger scale.

VCAI has a clear strategic aim to utilise the data and successful interventions of Timor Awakening as a model for Department of Veterans Affairs to commit to funding wellness intervention to prevent veteran suicide, broken families and injured veterans. Wellness intervention will result in considerable government budget savings compared to funds spent on ‘sickness’ treatment, pensions and medication. As well as increase health and wellbeing of veterans and their families, save lives, and meaningfully re-engage some of the nation’s most energetic and capable members of society. In the soul of the veteran is a need to serve, to be of value, to contribute and to belong.  

Input to the National Commission for preventing veterans suicide  

Michael and I were invited to participate in the National Symposium on preventing veteran suicide in Canberra from 9 to 11 March. Together with other people working in this space and significantly the key leadership people from DVA and Defence. I was particularly impressed with Commissioner Bernadette Boss and her commitment to relentlessly pursue the implementation of many recommendations already made in a series of previous Inquiries, as well as searching for new ways that we can keep veterans alive. Participants were most receptive to our suggestions on the need for a health and well-being program to be delivered to service people before they discharge the military and for the need for peer support mentoring of veterans in the critical stages of transition. We received also many insights into the research being done on veterans suicide It is clear that more work needs to be done into understanding and healing of moral injury involving betrayal, guilt and shame. The Commission gratefully received a range of suggestions made by participants in the TA 15 program, as well as details of our Timor Awakening methodology.
As this new newsletter goes to print there has been much agitation for a Royal Commission into veteran suicide which will investigate in more detail the historical suicides already completed. I believe there is scope for both a Royal Commission into the past and an ongoing Commission into prevention of suicide to be conducted in parallel. I have certainly made the point on social media that we cannot wait for the results of a Royal Commission before taking steps to alleviate the circumstances of veterans that are suicidal right now.

Staff and program development and future hopes 

Staff and program development is our immediate focus over the coming months to position ourselves ready to respond to major initiatives that may flow from the government’s 2021 budget. DVA has been holding off on implementations of a number of reviews into welfare support and future programs until then. In particular we await response to our tender for becoming a DVA provider of health and well-being services, which if successful, would see us provide services as contractor of Open Arms.  As we await this and other high-level decisions, we are undertaking further development of our peer mentoring program and will be conducting a staff development weekend at Saint Georges, Rainbow Bay over the period 21 to 24 May.

TA16, 21 to 29 August 2021. 

TA 16 is our next health and well-being program and is scheduled to be delivered from 21 to 29 August at Saint Georges Rainbow Bay. Expressions of interest are available on our website here 

If you know of someone who would benefit from what we have to offer, please encourage them to submit an expression of interest as soon as possible. Expressions of interest close on 21 May and we will notify the successful applicants in the week following.

Timor-Leste. 

We look forward to returning to Timor as soon as possible, but realistically we are not expecting this will occur before 2022. Meanwhile we are excited by the progress of our community development project, the Veterans Education Training Scheme VETS, previously known as Riak Retreat. Students of the Veteran Training Centre – Same are learning English day and night, boarding students are on campus and construction of more classrooms and boarding facilities continues. Updated reports as at 2021 are available here. We still need at least $200,000 to complete construction of the health, agricultural, and construction faculties. Tax-deductible donations, including an immediate receipt, can be made through our website here.

Easter reflection – This too will pass – The Sun/Son is always shining!

When I started to write this reflection things were looking pretty grim in the veteran community and on top of that it was raining cats and dogs, and our lives continued to be affected by Covid. With the angst that has come with the Brereton review, lengthy delays in DVA being able to process compensation claims,  and a suicide rate among veterans that has doubled, its understandable that some veterans could be feeling downhearted at this time. 

But without wanting to deny the difficulties individuals may be facing,  I choose to have hope for the future and gratefulness for the many things that are still going well. 

After almost 2 weeks of torrential rain on my property at Mount Tamborine, I woke one morning to the sun shining brightly on our land and as I went out for my first long walk for some time and enjoyed the sun’s rays,  I reflected that actually the sun had been shining all through this dark period.  It was just that I couldn’t see it, because of the dark clouds in between us. Those clouds now seem to have passed, and my fields, plants and fruit trees are brimming with new life. 

Our lives seem to follow a similar pattern to nature. There are times of sunshine and  joy, drought and then flooding rains, and then sunshine once again. All along, life keeps happening, and good things are happening. 

I mindful that in so many places veterans are going quietly about helping other veterans. Despite the Covid, our Veterans Care Association has been able to adapt to run Well-being programs on the Gold Coast,  until we can return to taking veterans back to Timor-Leste. We even developed and delivered a Peer Support Mentor program!

Positive developments have resulted from the creation of the National Commission for preventing veteran suicide and a Royal Commission into past failures will hopefully address systemic issues that can improve the lot of veterans . Here in Queensland we are looking forward to getting  together and matching again on Anzac Day. 

Before then we will celebrate Easter. It is a foundational story of good times and bad.  Jesus came to preach a message of compassion, forgiveness and healing. He was received well by some, and crucified by others. Wonderfully in response to his suffering and dying, others came together to continue his work of healing and compassion for those in need . That continues into this  day, especially through formal and informal Veterans Groups. VCA was founded on the inspiration of Jesus’ example and mission to bring Good News to the poor in spirit, to proclaim liberty to those captive to addiction, new sight to those blind to a positive future,  and set the downtrodden and abused free. It is a mission of bringing HOPE. 

As I grow older I come to a greater acceptance that a normal life has many seasons – and that difficult times can be precursors to new life. Of course I believe that God is real and is watching over us and that nothing can separate us from the love of God and others, no matter what season of life you are experiencing now. I’d encourage you to remember that the sun and the Son are always shining over you, and when things are difficult, remember this too will pass,  and the good times will return. 

May God bless you all, 
Your Padre, Gary Stone

Thanks to our sponsors 

The continuing work of VCA and Timor Awakening has only been possible due to financial support of major sponsors Bolton Clarke and RSL QLD. Brisbane City Council, City of  Gold Coast, Community Underwriters, Knights of The Southern Cross, and significant volunteer contributions of grateful veterans and others supporters. Together we are saving lives. Please read on.  

THANKYOU letter from a grateful veteran (Just received)

Dear Michael,    

I just want to again thank you for the part that you and the tribe at Timor Awakening have had in saving my life. I cannot properly put into words the improvement to my mindset that I now feel; but, be assured that I believe that if it was not for me coming back and doing TA14 that I would be in a worse position, if not dead now.  

I believe that during TA10 seeds were planted but I was not in a good environment when I returned home for them to blossom; therefore, they stayed dormant. With working FIFO and using work to hide in, I thought I was in control. I knew best and I thought I was travelling great. 

But in February 2020, the BLACK DOG bit me and took me down hard and fast. I fell so deep that I attempted the unthinkable and only by seconds did it not end in a different way. This led to me being hospitalised for seven weeks in the Jamie Larcombe Centre (JLC) and the start of my rebuild.  After an out of the blue conversation with Rowena, I applied to attend TA14 and was accepted. Whilst on TA14, the TA10 seeds combined with the new fertiliser from TA14 and my new mindset grow.  

All of this I know that I passed on to you before during TA14; but there is more! 

In October 2020, I started the Trauma Recovery Couse (TRC) at JLC. Here I was with other Veterans who have PTS and were at different levels of their treatment. Skill that I have learnt from the two TAs I was able to bring forward and use on the TRC; i.e. to forgive your past and to looking forward, set yourself up for success, take time to look after you, look to help others, etc. Also, I was able to talk about that fact that hospitalisation was not the only option and that Peer-to-Peer groups were helpful. Whilst in the background, I was able to handle the other Veterans and the staff a lot better than I would have before. 

The TRC was interrupted by SA’s COVID–19 shutdown and did not restart until February 2021. This just happens to coincide with the anniversary of the visit from the BLACK DOG. Just to show how much he missed me he came back and he seemed to be bigger and stronger using last year’s attempt to try and get a good, deep hold of me. But, with my new mindset I was in a better position to handle him and see him on his way, and I was able to finish the TRC. 

For me going to Timor Leste with TA was great, without it I would never had learnt or full understood forgiveness. I am more than looking forward to being able to go back again and help wherever and however I can.  

TA on the Gold Coast is perfect for someone in my situation. Being able to gather with like-minded people, to be part of a tribe that is willing to remind you again and again of tools that can help you survive the darkest of times within my head is invaluable.  

Without a doubt, if it were not for TA14, I would have done something stupid this February and so once again I say THANK YOU Michael 

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