Timorese president will lead veterans’ delegation

New Timorese president will lead veterans’ delegation at Anzac Day services in Brisbane

THE newly-elected president of Timor Leste, former guerilla fighter Francisco Guterres, will lead a 30-person delegation of veterans to Brisbane this Anzac Day.

President Guterres, a Catholic, was a commander during a two decades-long armed struggle against Indonesia, which invaded Timor Leste in 1974.

The visit by Timorese war veterans to participate in Anzac activities honours the commitment of Australian troops supporting the people of Timor Leste – both in the Second World War and since 1999 when Australian troops have helped restore civil order after a fractious vote for independence. (more…)

Psychologist praises TA

Leading clinical psychologist praises veteran program ‘Timor Awakening’

A LEADING clinical psychologist has praised the “quality healing” of the rehabilitation program Timor Awakening, which is helping veterans deal with PTSD, substance abuse, isolation and thoughts of committing suicide.

Brisbane-based Dr John Barletta, who volunteered as a consultant on the Timor Awakening program, said “it has been inspiring to see veterans and leaders connect, support, guide, challenge, and educate one another” and “regain a sense of worth in their lives”.

The one-year program, led by Deacon Gary Stone and the Veterans Care Association with support from RSL Queensland, includes an innovative immersion experience for veterans in Timor Leste, a country where many younger veterans have served.

Greater support for veterans has been identified as a national priority to deal with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and alcohol and substance abuse, as well as a staggering suicide rate amongst the veteran community.

Dr Barletta recently accompanied veterans to Timor Leste, providing his own specialist guidance and positive psychology strategies.

“The veterans, though wounded in certain ways, have been quite willing and able to use their relative strengths to be future-focused, and work on integrating their learnings from Timor Awakening to change their lives toward greater health and wellbeing,” he said.

Dr Barletta said veterans visiting Timor Leste (for most, many years after they served there) were able to see that their efforts “amidst the pain and destruction and suffering” had resulted in change and created hope in people’s lives.

“Even on the very first day in Dili, our veterans were able to say ‘what I did was worth something’,” he said.

“For a lot of the veterans the most powerful thing was seeing children, bathed and well clothed and learning in schools. This is the next generation in Timor, and it really touched our guys to see their contribution as servicemen had helped create this.

“It is part of our existential life to be in the service of others. It’s an achievement – part of living a full life.”

Deacon Gary Stone

Joyous: Deacon Gary Stone handing out school supplies in Timor Leste

Dr Barletta said for many veterans, medically discharged after their national service, each day was a challenge.

“How do we get them engaged?” he said, noting that it was often a cultural struggle for veterans to blend back into Australian life.

In his talks to veterans, Dr Barletta said he explained it was their responsibility to build in positive experiences each day including an exercise regime, attending to their psychological and relationship wellbeing, developing hobbies and voluntary work.

“And I would say ‘this stuff is not going to happen by miracle. You can cross your fingers, you can pray’. Hope is wonderful, but at the end of the day hope is not a strategy. There needs to be a plan,” he said.

“What you need to put in the cross-hairs are routine patterns and habits – because when you do the life-giving stuff, that becomes the new normal. And that fills the neural pathways to your brain – through the routines, repetition and deliberate practice.”

Dr Barletta said part of the challenge of suicide prevention is harnessing the “grit, determination and ‘stickability’ which military personnel develop through their service and having those dimensions come to the fore in their civil life.”

Dr Barletta said he would continue to work with the Veteran Care Association team, which consisted of two psychologists, a nurse, as well as Deacon Stone and his son Michael Stone, a former army major.

“Let me reiterate … I believe that the program has sound psychological underpinnings, and with further work will be even more proficient at catering to the complex needs of veterans,” Dr Barletta said.

March News

Our next VCA gathering day is on Sat 1 April at Mates4Mates Milton at 1000

One of our recent Timor Awakening participants has said :  “This has been the best experience of my life.” Another reported: “ This has provided me more help than all of the clinicians I have seen over many years.”

With feedback such as this we are encouraged that the model we are developing in Veterans Health is not just helping the individuals we are directly engaging with , but also will change the broader approach offered  to all veterans. We are about promoting a wellness model of living, rather than enduring a sickness model of treatment. We are seeking to provide hope and restore people who have been labelled “totally and permanently incapacitated” to a level of health and wellbeing that is joyful and  generative, empowering them to see a future life purpose.

We especially thank Pat Mc Intosh and RSL Care for the substantial financial support they have given this year to enable us to continue to deliver our programmes and engage professional clinical staff to supplement our volunteers. They are now our major sponsor and we proudly sing their praises for many initiatives in supporting veterans and families around Australia and for trusting us. RSL Qld and Knights of the Southern Cross remain as sponsors and we are grateful for their ongoing support.

We thank Michael Stone and his team for delivering Timor Awakening 3, which built on learnings from our two previous programmes, and will see further adjustments with TA4 spending 3 fulldays on Atauro Island focussing on health education, more sharing and more physical exercise options.  The Prime Minister of Timor Leste, Dr Rui Arujo  is going to join us for this time, so supportive is the Timorese Govt of what we are doing ! Look up our many pictures on Facebook page Timor Awakening.

Back at base, at 2 Victoria Park Road Kelvin Grove , we have joyfully welcomed  psychologists Kaye Adams and Phoebe Cooper  to our Pastoral Team, coordinated by Kirsten Wells. We now have first class response capacity, record keeping, and programme evaluation in place. CPA accountant Wayne Robson is supporting Geoff Fry and Col Ahern in our governance team and we are in process of managing all our finances onto the XERO system, giving instant visibility and accountability of all we do.

Our next VCA gathering day is on Sat 1 April at Mates4Mates facility in Douglas St Milton starting at 1000, and including lunch at 1200. We will be providing an overview of VCA developments, hearing feedback from TA3 participants, briefing TA4 participants departing on 30 Apr, awarding Quilts of Valour, and making welcome participants hoping to deploy on TA5 in July.

We continue to be inspired to engage in this ministry as it is truly a Good Samaritan activity, in the words of Jesus, “bringing Good News to the afflicted, proclaiming liberty to captives, bringing new sight to the blind, and setting the downtrodden free.”

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My God bless you all and may you celebrate the new life that Easter proclaims.

Your Padre
Gary Stone

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

The Balibo Fort

The Veterans Care TA3 Team

TA3 Participants at Liquica

Gary handing out a couple of more than 3000 School Kits

The Welcome we received at the Aussie Commando Base at Bazartete

Timor Awakens by Kylie Hatfield

“Timor-Leste is a country that is peaceful, unexplored, rich in culture and a significant shared history with the Australian Military. It’s a country full of veterans and civilians that have suffered unimaginable atrocities, hardship, trauma and oppression; a people who have exhibited incredible resilience, reconciled with their foes and are moving forward,” described Michael Stone of Veterans Care.

“We can be very proud of our military intervention since INTERFET, and we are honoured to provide our veterans the opportunity to be inspired from the healing and rehabilitation the Timorese veterans provide us; to move forward with hope and purpose.”

Timor Awakening is much more than an 11-day experience through East Timor. As veterans found on the two tours conducted this year, it is an opportunity to heal from the emotional and mental wounds of their service. The tour through eight Districts enables veterans to see first-hand how far the communities impacted by war have come following the restoration of peace, in part thanks to Australia’s Defence personnel.

Timorese-Veteran.jpgLast surviving Timorese who was forced labour to dig the Japanese Munitions Storage and air raid shelter tunnels south of Baucau. Image Source: RSL News

(more…)

President’s Report

Presidents Report  to AGM for FY 15/16

This last 12 months has seen a most significant increase in the range and number of services provided to veterans and their families by VCA . This has occurred as a result of the development of the Timor Awakening Programme, and significant funding support from RSL Care , RSL Qld and Knights of the Southern cross as well as a range of other donors.  But the actual service delivery has been facilitated by many generous volunteers  who are members of VCA .

VCA was established to raise the level of health of the veteran community and we have definitely been doing that primarily through pastoral care and holistic health education.  Approximately 1000 people have received holistic health education sessions in the FY , and we have had an average of 30 pastoral  interventions every week in that same period. This will remain our frontline activity. (more…)

Aussie Veterans are receiving Healing and Hope through a Timor Awakening

Former Army Warrant Officer Nick , considers the title Timor Awakening a most apt title for the 11 day experience he had in Timor in September 2016 . “ It was real awakening to me of the possibilities of healing. My partner has noticed a huge change in me since I came home. I’ve had the chance to put some demons behind. A huge thanks to the VCA team of Michael Stone, Gary Stone, Kirsten Wells, Bob Breen, Merryn Thomae and Wayne Smith who have facilitated this journey for us.”

Former AFP agent Mark says “ I have been able to purge an issue that has affected my life and career for the last 12 years since I served in Timor. This experience has resolved a major life issue, that years of counselling was unable to do.” (more…)

Personal Reflections on Timor Awakening: A rehabilitation program for mentally ill Australian veterans

By Associate Professor Bob Breen.

I am a veteran managing depression. For many veterans like me, mental illness is a private nightmare that becomes a public humiliation as well as a disaster for loved ones. The consequences include relationship breakdown, substance abuse, unemployment and suicide. I have been publicly humiliated by my illness. I am divorced. I have lost my job. I am managing my illness much better now and have another job. I am writing to share the effects of the Timor Awakening program on me and others.

After 40 years in uniform, finishing as a Colonel, I have re-joined a brotherhood and sisterhood once again with the common purpose of fighting our mental illnesses by helping each other. Timor Awakening is a high-risk program that reaches out to mostly high-risk veterans. I participated in the first Timor Leste immersion experience in July 2016. The program design was sound and veterans, especially some who had ‘closed down’ in despair, completed the 11-day program strengthened and committed to getting well again, knowing that they were not alone in the ongoing battle. They rediscovered mateship on the roads of Timor Leste and were both inspired and strengthened by the stories of resilience from Timorese Resistance veterans who accompanied them. (more…)

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.

Background

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.

Conclusion

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 www.veteranscare.com.au.   Contact us on 0403270515 or at support@veteranscare.com.au, 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.

 

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