Veterans Care Newsletter – March 2022

Firstly thank you for your support in 2021, and a very successful AGM and our follow-up appreciation function. We have soldiered on despite COVID , catastrophic floods and War in Ukraine, and will continue educating and mentoring veterans, both in Australia and Timor to live in Hope , Health and Wellbeing. We acknowledge the many pressures , that many veterans are experiencing, but do not despair, knowing that the sun is always shining behind the darkest of clouds, and so can we.

In this news letter we will cover:

  • Royal commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide input
  • 2022 activities
  • National veteran considerations
  • TA17 – Engagement with Timorese veterans

Royal Commission

Our efforts over the past seven years were showcased in early December 2021 in three appearances both privately and publicly at the Royal Commission into Veteran Suicide.

Numerous people have given feedback, that our contribution was the most positive one that they have received and was gratefully received by the Commissioners and their staff. We were able to table evidence of the efficacy of health and well-being education and peer mentoring, and filling the major gap that exists between veterans being healthy while in uniform, and subsequently becoming acute cases requiring billions of dollars of funds that could’ve been better spent through earlier intervention by veteran-led initiatives. The Commissioners have written to me indicating they will be making positive recommendations to be implemented from the middle of this year. Hearings continue now in the Southern states.

Both written and video records of Michael Stone and my testimonies are available here.

We can have hope that good can come from this. The commissioners and their key staff are really impressive individuals, well read into the issues and committed to making and implementing solid improvements.

Moreover, on first of February, DVA Minister Gee announced that an additional $20 million would be made available almost immediately to organisations that can provide well-being programs for veterans to assist in reducing suicide. Those who saw my and Michael’s testimony know that this was something that we specifically spoke to at the Royal Commission, vigorously demanding that funding be made available immediately and not waiting for any conclusion or even interim recommendations from the Commission.

I thank those staff at DVA who have got this ball rolling so quickly. Some additional reflections on The Royal Commission from an article I have provided to the Camerarderie, the journal of the Defence Force Welfare Association, are available on our Website.

2022 Activities

During December and January most of us tried to have a break or a holiday of sorts, but I am mindful that for all of us, that was interrupted numerous times in our support to veterans with serious healthcare issues, as well as deaths and funerals.

I am grateful that Rowena Langan fielded numerous requests on our behalf over the period and that secretary Col, and Michael Stone, also continued with various activities. We have completed and submitted a grant request to DVA for $50,000, for peer mentoring development. Bolton Clarke, St Georges Defence Suites and RSLQLD have committed to continued support for us.

Michael Stone has successfully led our first activity, in a small mission to Timor from 15 to 23 February 2022 achieving multiple outcomes including commemoration of the 80th anniversary of our Commandos and Timorese resisting the Japanese invasion, review of progress at the veterans education training centre at Same, review of the humanitarian relief program we have been supporting, and the scoping and planning for future Timor Awakening programs for 2022 and beyond.

One of the major needs was for us to confirm all the arrangements involved in getting a group of veterans in and out of Timor in the current climate. COVID is well under control in Timor, but all travellers must be double vaccinated and testing is required before each travel leg.

The team negotiated this all successfully, but noted that it did involve some level of anxiety in dealing with extra paperwork and the uncertainty of testing positive and having travel cancelled on going or delayed on returning. We await confirmed flight schedule for flights to and from Timor, and the hope of a reduction in testing requirements, before we will confirm programs and call for expressions of interest. Of course, TA18 commences this weekend on the Gold Coast and at this stage we have approximately 22 people participating.

VCA Draft Calendar 2022(subject to change):

  • 15 to 23 Feb 22: TA 17 Timor-Leste.
  • 28 Feb 22: VCA management committee meeting.
  • 12 to 20 Mar 22: TA 18 at Gold Coast, staff arrive 11 Mar 22.
  • 24-25 March 22: Post-traumatic stress seminar at Bris convention centre.
  • 11 April 22: VCA management committee meeting.
  • 15 to 18 April 22: Easter holidays.
  • 16-25 May 22: TA 19 in Timor-Leste (20th Anniversary of TL Independence).
  • 13 June 22: VCA management committee meeting.
  • 14 to 21 June 22: TA 20 Mentor development workshop at Gold Coast.
  • 8 August 22: VCA management committee meeting.
  • 14-24 Aug 22: TA 21 in Timor-Leste.
  • 27 Oct to 2 Nov 22: VCA Retreat and Strategic planning workshop at Gold Coast incl Annual General Meeting (Sat 29 Oct).
  • Monday 28 Nov 22: VCA team meeting. Leave period commences.

We will notify by further letter, and on Facebook ,when we are in a position to open up programs for expression of interest.

National Veteran Considerations

This is a watershed time on the national veterans scene. We have made input to a number of major developments and expect further engagement in the weeks and months ahead in the following areas:

  • An invitation to tender to provide health and wellbeing programs for DVA/Open Arms.
  • Establishment of Health and Wellbeing Hubs in SEQLD.
  • DVA invitation to bid for $20 m for health and wellbeing programs.
  • Royal Commission follow-up activities.

TA17 in Timor-Leste

Timor Awakening 17 was successfully conducted from 15-23 March 2022.

Highlights included conference with the entire Timorese Veterans Council, meeting with the Vice Minister of the Interior, meeting with the VETs school facilitators AHHA, a 4 day district commemoration tour through Districts, multiple ‘Operation Hamutuk’ engagements in Manufahi, Vikeke and Baucau, traditional welcome at UBTL/VETs Schools in Same, educational and commemorative forum held in new skills wing, meeting with Australian Defence Attache and members of Defence Cooperation Program, meeting with former President Jose Ramos-Horta and more.

Operation Hamutuk has been our TL Humanitarian aid project. The fourth tranche of funding of $15,000.00 was provided to the TL Veterans Council (CCLN) on 2 Feb 22. The full CCLN committee welcomed the VCA Delegation in Dili at their new HQ on 17 Feb 22. The committee thanked VCA, the veteran and Australian committee for the generous and impactful support since April 2021. The coordinated support has provided a meaningful purpose for the CCLN veteran network and staff. For more information – https://www.timorawakening.com/single-project

Our Vocational Education Training Scheme Timor-Leste (VETS TL) is flourishing.. The general construction for the skills wing is complete with completed financial report available. The school is functioning and rebuilding numbers as the country opens, post-COVID, with currently approx. 40 full time boarding students and 80 part time students with capacity to grow.

The staff and students extend their heartfelt thanks for the ongoing support that is providing a marked impact for their lives.

After consultation with the leadership of the school the priority projects include

  1. A water storage tower for guaranteed water supply for the school,
  2. A chicken run,
  3. A pigsty,
  4. Fencing.

Our VCA committee has just approved that $12,000.00 be dispatched to TL/Aust Veterans Association (Associacao Amizade entre Veteranos) to complete projects 1-3 and to fund a temporary fence. For more information – https://www.timorawakening.com/riak-retreat

Conclusion

I note that we are going into this new year in a sound financial position with a solid team of experienced staff with good morale and a solid reputation. We plan to be zealously scrupulous in focussing on health and wellbeing education and peer mentor development, and not getting dragged into numerous other veterans activities and causes that are bubbling away, no matter how noble they are.

In conclusion I’d like to offer up for a brief reflection on why we have been so successful over the years.

I recently read a review of the success of the Alcoholics Anonymous program which has helped millions of people over many years. When researchers investigated why has it has been so successful they reflected on the various 12 steps that they endorse, starting with the need for people to acknowledge that they had a problem, but ending with the critical 12th step which involves individuals and groups being prepared to reach out and engage and help people that had limited ability to help themselves.

I reflect that this actually is the unique aspect of our program, not currently addressed, to my knowledge, by other programs in the veteran space in Australia. We are going beyond helping Australian veterans get healthier, through our work in Timor in both the education and humanitarian activities.

We are lifting our veteran clients to a higher level of self actualisation, and inspiration, going beyond the clamour for pensions and entitlements, and helping them witness Compassion and Care in a new light.

We are helping them become better human beings, which was actually the underpinning desire of Jesus, not to make people more holy, but to help them to become more fully human.

Well done team for contributing to make our world a better place.
God Bless you all.
Your Padre
Gary

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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