Good News in Veterans Care – July 2021

The last few months have been a very significant period in the life and development of the Veterans Care mission. We have continued fulfillment of our vision to transform the Veterans’ paradigm nationally to a peer led, wellness focus, at the same time as demonstrating the fundamental values of compassion and care through a positive “can do “growth mindset, both locally and in Timor-Leste.

In this issue we cover:

Timor Humanitarian Mission

Our launching of a humanitarian mission to Timor in response to the catastrophic floods and landslides on Easter Sunday, 4 April 21, amidst a Covid outbreak, has been extraordinary.

Thank you Michael Stone for your leadership and self-sacrifice in this mission. It was an example of caring and loving our neighbours in the most dramatic way.

We honour Mark Herewini for his offering 6 weeks of service, and Craig Thrupp for his funding of a charter plane to deliver relief supplies.

We provided the first international humanitarian support to reach the thousands left homeless and starving. Michael has reported on the details in many Facebook posts that helped raise awareness and focus support in an otherwise media blackout.

Michael and Mark weren’t sitting in an office directing things from a computer. They were on the ground every day, in dire conditions, humping sacks of rice, conducting medical outreach clinics, traversing landslides, conducting emergency health training, public health education, community outreach and digging mud out of people’s houses.

They worked tirelessly to encourage people and give them hope, as well as provide critical lobby support in Australia and Timor-Leste. We raised and distributed over $70,000 in relief supplies through our partner Timorese Veterans’ Association.

Moreover it was a witness to the Timorese of how we can persevere with seemingly insurmountable political obstacles and be successful.

It also witnessed to the thousands of Australian veterans who watch us on Facebook that we can make a difference by direct action as a veterans’ community. The humanitarian crisis is continuing and we will continue to send funds to the Veterans to distribute. This is a strategic witness to our values and to the inspiration of our veteran community, and has received the grateful thanks of the Timorese, and led to invitations for Michael to brief politicians in Canberra in June.


Engagement with DVA and others

In the last two months we have participated in numerous forums with DVA, Open Arms, Defence and other ESO on positive initiatives to address veterans health.

Amazingly Michael was asked to brief Minister Darren Chester in June, and I was engaged by Repatriation Commissioner Don Spinks on 1 July.

Both were very impressed by VCA success in health and wellbeing education and peer mentoring and committed to promote this within DVA. Brig Wade Stothart who leads the new Joint Transition Authority to better facilitate veteran transition out of Defence, has committed to come to see TA16 in action with a view to developing peer mentored Health and Wellbeing education and more robust transition programs.

This strategic dialogue will continue, and our views on the need for peer-support mentoring and holistic health education are being highly regarded. We can proudly say we are influencing a national agenda with our work. We are yet to hear of any outcome of our DVA tender bid. The Defence Force Welfare Association has invited me to put a regular post in their magazine Camerarderie. My most recent offering is attached below.


VCA Team Development Weekend

Our June staff team building and professional development 4 day weekend was a great success.

Thanks to Col Ahern and Ro Langan for the Admin support and Mick Lay and Scott McAndrew for the program, as well as all who gave their time to participate. As well as the team building aspect, work was completed on TA program development and lesson planning.

Sharpening our tools, and doing preventive maintenance on ourselves enables us to play the long game. Some photos attached tell the mood of the weekend well.


Prep for TA16 (21-29 August)

We look forward to delivering TA16 in August and TA17 in March 2022, at St Georges , Rainbow Bay and will be on standby for return to Timor from mid to late 2022. TA16 is oversubscribed with veterans desiring to do the program. Invariably some will pull out closer to time due to unforeseen events, but we’ll still have a waiting list of reserves. Increasing our numbers presents challenges in terms of COVID social distancing. We trust that the people that need to do the program soonest, are the ones that attend in August, and that those held as reserves can be gracious and understanding.


VETS (formerly Riak Retreat).

As veterans who care, the Veterans Education Training Scheme VETS, based in Same, is our crowning achievement. From a remote hope and vision two years ago, and despite Covid, The English Language Institute is now in full swing with a comprehensive student body, both residential and day students.

A progress report is attached here. We are grateful for many donors but particularly honour substantial donations recently made by Dianne Hanna and Jim Johnson. The next phase of the project is to build a trade school and more accommodation. We look forward to visiting staff and students when COVID permits.


Reflection on Veterans Issues

This activity has been paralleled by an unprecedented increase in veteran crises and requests for support, directly attributable to angst and anger from the Brereton Inquiry, Royal Commission, the Defence Ombudsman’s invitations to report past misbehaviour, and the highly visible Ben Roberts-Smith court case.

We can but triage most of these requests and connect veterans with the best provider.

Here again our extensive collaboration with the wide variety of friends we have in the veteran community is of great benefit. We know intuitively our best outcomes long term will come from focusing our time and resources on early intervention education, and not from crisis intervention.

We have developed good liaison with Open Arms and RSL Qld who do have capacity and resources to assist veterans in crisis. My reflections on the Royal commission are included in the DFWA article below.


Thanks for your support

We have had significant donations come in from Bolton Clark, RSL QLD, Knights of the Southern Cross, Yeronga- Dutton Park RSL sub branch, Kilcoy Diggers/RAR Association, City of Gold Coast and Federal Government Volunteer Grants.

They are gratefully acknowledged.

The Go Fund Me campaign for Timor Flood relief has been concluded, but poverty and homelessness in Dili remains, and any future donations can be directed through our website for distribution through our Timorese veterans.

We have six generous individuals who make a monthly donation. We honour you and invite others to join them. Giving is good for your health. I must also acknowledge and thank our team of approx 20 volunteers who are the body, mind and soul of VCA.

Your names are already recorded in Gods book of life, in history and in the hearts of our Timorese friends and partners.


Despite COVID, we will continue to offer individual health and well-being support in between our major activities, and we will continue strategic dialogue on health and well-being and development of our peer mentor training program.

Please set aside Saturday 6 November for our Christmas party, AGM and Veterans Health Week activity at Mates 4 mates , Douglas st Milton 1000-1400.

May I finish with a short inspiration from my DFWA article:

At a recent clergy conference one of the presenters posed the question, what does God do when God gets up in the morning. He suggested that what occupies God’s every waking moment is encouraging us to mend the broken. God invites every human being to join in a divine project of mending brokenness, tearing down walls between people, promote reconciliation, and healing those that are wounded. 2000 years ago, in the time of Jesus, before mental health clinics, medication, or cognitive behaviour therapy, healing was achieved by personal visitation, active listening, loving touch, words of affirmation and empathetic accompaniment.

The story of the Good Samaritan lifting a wounded man onto a donkey was later copied at Anzac Cove by Simpson and his donkey. We also use it as our VCA inspiration. It remains our most iconic symbol of veteran care. I invite us all to uncover, cherish and enable all that is true, good and beautiful in our military tradition of caring for those in need. May we be Ambassadors of Hope. We veterans can do this. When we were in uniform, many of us aspired to save the lives of others. Paradoxically, we have many more opportunities to do that post uniformed service. We never really become ex-service people. We can continue to serve as wounded healers.

Let us spend less effort on complaining about what is broken, and have more focus on the simple practical measures to mend what is broken.

May God bless you all in this mission of veterans care, because we are veterans who care.

God bless you

Your Padre, Gary


Padre perspective In DFWA magazine Camerarderie

2021 certainly has been a very active time in veteran welfare matters. I was very pleased to be able to participate along with DFWA President Kel Ryan, in the National Symposium into preventing defence and veteran suicide in Canberra in February. Interim Commissioner, Bernadette Boss, came across as a very impressive individual committed to implementing the many recommendations of numerous inquiries that have already been tabled, but also the recent initiatives raised with her team, and more that were raised at the Symposium.

Beyond that we are experiencing a lot of brokenness. Our enthusiasm at a renewed focus on immediate steps at preventing suicide has been challenged by the announcement of a Royal Commission into previous veteran suicides and a push by interest groups to delay any implementation of suicide prevention measures till the end of the Royal Commission.

Whilst I fully understand and empathise with the needs of grieving family members to want to call people to account for behaviour in the past, I hope and pray that the focus and energy required for the Royal Commission will not be allowed to detract from preventative work needed right now.

Immediately the Royal Commission was announced I experienced a significant increase in cases of veterans in crisis and with suicidal ideation, that hasn’t abated. Of course among the shadows in the background is also the ongoing investigations into matters flowing from the Brereton inquiry into conduct in Afghanistan.

Clearly any veterans with complex health issues have the potential to be triggered by a focus on traumatic memories of the past. We can’t wait for the years that the Royal commission will take, before implementing obvious fixes . Hundreds more could die as the Royal Commission proceeds.

One thing that I have learnt in chaplaincy over many years is that whatever we focus upon looms larger. If we focus upon the things that are not working in our life, or guilt, shame or anger about past events, we can ruminate on them and be preoccupied with the darkness, spiraling downwards in our health.

If we focus on positive solutions to problems and matters that are strengths in our lives, we can be reminded of the resilience that we have shown, and we can use our strengths to lever ourselves out of the difficulties.

My organisation, the Veterans Care Association has a positive proactive vision of raising the health and well-being of veterans and their families through holistic health education and peer support mentoring. We have found this has been a very empowering and uplifting support to many veterans who have spent too much of their life preoccupied with what has not gone well for them.

Whilst there are many things that can be improved in the veterans space, it would be helpful if all of us kept reminding ourselves of the successes and achievements that have been made. Social media is replete with veterans whinging about myriad issues without suggesting solutions. I’ve heard people complaining that there are too many veterans organisations. I would rather celebrate the fact that many veterans are engaged in the widest variety of ways to help other veterans. Many small veterans groups have developed to provide niche capabilities that have not been previously supported by DVA or the larger veterans organisations. Everyone involved wins when we put our energies into helping those in need.

From the point of view of a positive growth mindset, It would be wonderful if all of us within the veteran space grasped onto a primary objective of collaboration in improving the health and well-being of veterans – focussed on developing solutions rather than complaining about problems. Clearly that will involve some of us advocating for systemic improvements, but not leading us to the despair and negatively that some veterans eschew.

While clinicians can play their part in supporting wounded ill and injured veterans , the largest impact can be effected by veterans helping, mentoring and educating other veterans in need, especially those with suicidal ideation.

Over many years as a Padre, I have engaged empathetically with hundreds of veterans with suicidal ideation. All of them are still alive today. Despite complex personal circumstances all they needed to stay alive was to have someone actively listen to them, affirm their circumstances, embrace them in love, encourage to have HOPE, invite them to embrace forgiveness, and to mentor them into exploring options they could choose – one of which was always to see scope to use the lessons of their brokenness to help others. In the midst of this, they got back in touch with their soul, and chose to follow its lead rather than the torment in their minds. I invite them to find new purpose in mending the broken.

At a recent clergy conference one of the presenters posed the question, what does God do when God gets up in the morning. He suggested that what occupies God’s every waking moment is encouraging us to mend the broken. God invites every human being to join in a divine project of mending brokenness, tearing down walls between people, promote reconciliation, and healing those that are wounded.

2000 years ago, in the time of Jesus, before mental health clinics, medication, or cognitive behaviour therapy, healing was achieved by personal visitation, active listening, loving touch, words of affirmation, and empathetic accompaniment.

The story of the Good Samaritan lifting a wounded man onto a donkey was later copied at Anzac Cove by Simpson and his donkey. It remains our most iconic symbol of veteran care. I invite us all to uncover, cherish and enable all that is true, good and beautiful in our military tradition of caring for those in need. May we be Ambassadors of Hope.

We veterans can do this. When we were in uniform, many of us aspired to save the lives of others. Paradoxically we have many more opportunities to do that post uniformed service. We never really become Ex-Service people. We can continue to serve as wounded healers.

Let us spend less effort on complaining about what is broken ,and have more focus on the simple practical measures to mend what is broken.



Thank you to our Generous 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 the significant volunteer contributions of grateful veterans and other supporters. Together we are saving lives.

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