For the past few years the Veterans Care Association (VCA), based in Brisbane, have been working on front line veteran rehabilitation, supporting many hundreds of clients and their families. VCA’s tactical objective is to improve the health and wellbeing of the veterans they engage with daily, but their strategic objective has been to model and improve the systemic way Veterans Health is managed, moving it from the current “treating sickness” model to a “promoting wellness” model. All of the core VCA team are seasoned veterans and committed Christians who have experienced the good and bad of what is currently on offer snd they have cobbled together a best practice veteran friendly service.
Chaplain Gary Stone, a veteran of some 47 years service, ( 8/9 RAR , 6RAR , 1RAR ) and his son Michael, a veteran of 20 years service ( 2 RAR, 8/9 RAR) , lead a group of veteran clinicians and peer support carers engaging ill and injured veterans in peer support, encouragement, holistic health education, and life coaching. Gary says , “Frankly, veterans are not responding well to the so called “Gold standard” of medication and cognitive/exposure therapy. At a recent Post Traumatic Stress conference in Brisbane it was reported that 1/3 of veterans are actually getting worse from the clinical treatments they are getting. All the clients VCA are seeing are making significant improvements, as they open up and respond to fellow veterans, who encourage them.”
VCA currently provides a comprehensive peer support, health and wellbeing education programme, engaging disengaged veterans and educating them about health and wellbeing possibilities and/ or getting them into clinical therapy before they become acute cases requiring hospitalisation. They utilise a front line team of chaplains and peer supporters-all very experienced former military officers , and a second row of Doctors, Nurses, Psychologists, and Social workers who advise both staff and clients.
The central message VCA offers to veterans is that they can live much healthier lives if they deliberately give attention to nurturing their body, mind and soul , as well as living with a positive life purpose. Soul nurture, including healing for moral injury is the missing ingredient in all other rehab programmes on offer in Australia. To drive home the potential and importance of faith, the VCA team takes participants to Timor, where they hear the amazing stories of the Timorese who were victorious against all odds, with faith in God as their underpinning hope.
Designed and developed by Michael Stone, VCA’s Flagship activity is a 9 month “Timor Awakening” (TA) rehabilitation program, involving 3 months preparation, a 12 day immersion in Timor along with Timorese veterans and a 6 month follow up period. VCA have conducted five of these programmes with 125 participants and support of 20 veteran volunteer staff members, and are preparing for two more programmes in 2018. In Timor they get a “mountaintop experience’ – a circuit breaker awakening that their lives can improve , and they find new purpose and identity.
The detailed evaluation data VCA have collected and had externally analyzed by clinical psychologists and medical officers, presents solid evidence that the program is significantly reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression in all participants, and conversely improving quality of life. These results are being sustained over the long term, through regular follow up, and the participation by many participants in “Life Coaching” offered by veteran Michael Albrecht.
TA alumni are engaging and assisting with ESO (especially RSL) and are making positive contributions to the veteran community and society. Noteworthy is the case of TA 2 participant, 15 year navy veteran Kerri Howie who has recently given public testimony in the Catholic Leader newspaper (circulation 33,000 nationwide) of her coming to VCA in a state of deep depression and drug addiction, and subsequent to TA has been rehabilitated and has returned to Timor walking 160 km from Dili to Betano conducting a health clinic in every village en route. “I’m now inspired. I have purpose. I feel alive and I look forward to many opportunities ahead”- Kerri.
Another significant outcome has been the mutual support given to the Timorese veterans and Government of Timor in progressing veteran support initiatives. The recently elected Prime Minister Mari Alkitiri hosted the TA5 group in his office, and heard first hand from VCA staff on what his Government could be doing to enhance veteran support. This occurred simultaneously with the Governments release of a 40 min documentary on the TA experience that has been shown nationally in Timor. VCA have produced the following short videos on Youtube and currently working on a professional documentary with interviews of participants.
Timor Awakening Commandos Return October 2017 Introduction Video (2 Minutes)
Timor Awakening 5 General Video (5 Mins)
VCA wishes to continue to offer TA experiences. They have more applicants than they can support, but their capacity for veteran support is significantly diminished by the time an effort they must put into fund raising. The programmes delivered to date have been made possible largely through the Sponsorship of RSL Qld and RSL Care – now known as Bolton Clarke. Further sponsorships and donations are most welcome.
Michael Stone says, “Defence has given many of us extensive training in leadership, training and development, to be able to design and deliver these programmes, and healing our struggling veterans is an honourable task for us veterans to be engaged in. Experienced veterans can care for younger veterans in ways that civilian clinicians can’t. Younger veterans trust us and can be led into new lives because they know we understand them and we care. The deepest issues for veterans are not psychiatric-they relate to identity, purpose and connection with God and others. We can offer the empowerment for these to be rediscovered and realized.”
Comprehensive information on this work is available at www.veteranscare.com.au
Veterans Care Association
Gary served 25 years as an infantry officer in the Army, before ordination as a married
Deacon in 1994. Since then he has served as an army and police chaplain, has led extensive
humanitarian ministries in Timor Leste, and is now chaplain to the ex service community in
SEQLD. Gary has been married to Lynne for over 43 years and they have four adult children
and three grandchildren.