Open Arms community and peer program expands nationally

SUPPORT for veterans and their families who may be struggling with mental health conditions or at risk of suicide, will be enhanced through the Community and Peer Program which is currently being rolled out across Australia.

VA121 open arms peer advisor group

The program, run by Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (Open Arms), connects veterans and family members who may be struggling with their mental health, with peers who bring a lived experience of mental health issues and, importantly, of recovery.

Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester joined existing and newly recruited members of the Open Arms Community and Peer Program in Canberra as part of their week-long induction training.

“The pilot program held in Townsville, had positive results with Open Arms peers breaking down barriers to care, improving relationships with key community groups, and reducing the stigma for veterans around mental health and seeking help,” Mr Chester said.

“Since the First World War, veterans and their families have understood the importance and value of mateship that is instilled during service, placing them in a unique position to support one another. This program harnesses that mateship and ensures veterans can talk to other veterans, and families to other military families, to assist each other with the support of mental health clinicians.

“This is another important part of the support system—improving the holistic mental health and wellbeing outcomes for veterans and their families. The national roll-out is a significant step forward in improving the lives of veterans and their families.”

Twenty-nine peers, in addition to the six peers from the Townsville pilot, are being trained as Mental Health Peer Workers and will be employed at 14 Open Arms locations nationally. Also in attendance for the induction training were representatives from key veteran-run organisations with a passion for supporting veterans’ mental health, including Swiss8, Red Six and Survive to Thrive Nation.

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“You train them to go to war, we train them to come home” – Founder/CEO Dane Christison

Adrian Sutter from Swiss8 said, “The biggest take-out for me from the workshop is they get it. Open Arms seem to understand the current veteran space. They get what is needed to break the barriers with veterans at the moment, and get people coming forward firstly and then getting them the help that they need, if they need it, or just provide someone to talk to. That they understand the space is the biggest thing I’m taking away.”

The Community and Peer Program will provide Open Arms with a skilled workforce of veterans from across all three Australian Defence Force services and family representatives, to augment clinical capability across Australia by mid-2020.

Open Arms (formerly VVCS) is Australia’s leading provider of high quality mental health, counselling and support services for Australian veterans and their families, as well as some reservists and peacekeepers. To find out more about the services offered, call 1800 011 046 or visit Open Arms.

1 December 2019

Open Arms — Veterans and Families Counselling provides support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Free and confidential help is available 24/7. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 1800 011 046 or +61 8 8241 4546) or visit www.OpenArms.gov.au

Opinion – Veterans have poorer mental health than Australians overall. We could be serving them better

Veterans are at higher risk of mental illness than the rest of the Australian population. Many of them are seeking help, but the way care is provided to this group must consider their unique needs. Opinion by Nicole Sadler, University of Melbourne

A career in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), or the armed forces in any country, can be rewarding, but also demanding. Challenges include the rigorous training, frequent moves, and maintaining social connections.

Beyond this, military personnel may be exposed to trauma during combat, peace-keeping missions, border protection, disaster and humanitarian relief, and training accidents.

They may be confronted not only with threats to their own lives or safety, but also with the suffering or death of others, which can have a significant emotional and psychological impact.

So it’s not surprising we see higher rates of mental illness among veterans compared to the overall Australian population.

The rates of suicide are also concerning, particularly among younger veterans. Between 2001 and 2016, 373 Australian veterans took their lives. Male veterans under 30 had a suicide rate more than twice the national average for men the same age. These figures have led to considerable community concern, including calls for a royal commission into veteran suicide.

READ MORE

Mental Health Australia – News

CEO’s Update

The Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health will hand down its Final Report on 23 May 2020, and at this draft stage the message we are hearing from both the PC, and Government, is that we – the sector – can still help shape and influence the Final Report.

Yes, the Productivity Commission’s Draft Report provides a valuable, up to date statement on the significant economic costs of mental illness. It properly places the experience of mental illness in a broader social context and we commend the PC for reviewing impacts of social determinants of mental health including housing, justice, education and employment. They rightly acknowledge the lack of a national vision for mental health and further acknowledge we do not have the governance structures necessary to support national collaboration in this area.

At this stage of the process, exactly 190 days until the Final Report is presented to Government, the grand vision for systemic mental health reform we were all hoping for is not yet clear.

So what do we do next? Having spoken with Commissioner Stephen King and the Minister’s office this week about our concerns, we know the public hearings starting today in Canberra (and concluding in Launceston on 9 December) are vital to helping improve this report. Our team appeared at the Canberra hearing this morning and presented much of what I have said here.

Melanie Cantwell
Acting CEO

Towards Zero forum – Suicide prevention

A landmark forum in Canberra this week has moved Australia a step closer to a coordinated, national approach to suicide prevention. The forum brought together people from diverse community organisations, the health and government sectors, and people with lived experience. Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, attended the forum, and said everyone provided valuable insights and ideas that will help the Government respond to the issue.

Read more 

$500,000 for Men’s Sheds across Australia

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, says the Morrison Government is continuing to support the Men’s Shed movement with this week’s announcement of successful grant recipients under the National Shed Development Programme. In the latest round, 135 Men’s Sheds across Australia will share in $500,000 in grants that will help buy tools and equipment, maintain infrastructure, coordinate training and host community activities about men’s health issues. Read more

ABC News – Veterans put ‘through a lot of hoops’ in bid to claim compensation, minister says

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has been “too adversarial” when it comes to handling the compensation claims of former defence personnel, Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester says.

Key points:

  • Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester says his department “has been guilty of being too adversarial” over compensation claims
  • Mr Chester said the culture in the department has been improving
  • He said he would act upon a recommendation to from a cross-party group on veterans’ mental health issues

Mr Chester made the comments to 7.30 after holding a summit in Canberra about veterans’ mental health on Wednesday.

The department has been criticised by veterans, their families and even the Productivity Commission, which said in a draft report that the compensation claim process for veterans was not fit for purpose.

One mother of a veteran who committed suicide started a petition on Change.org, which received more than 220,000 signatures. As part of the petition, she called for a royal commission into the rate of suicide among veterans and accuses the DVA of treating veterans poorly when they make compensation claims.

“I believe in the past that the DVA has been guilty of being too adversarial in terms of whether it’s protecting the public purse or putting veterans through a lot of hoops,” Mr Chester told 7.30.

He said the culture in large organisations was difficult to change but that the DVA was making progress.

“The changing culture now is around taking a more beneficial approach to the veteran or their family in terms of providing those support measures. So I think there has been improvement, I think there’s real progress here,” he said.

“The feedback I’ve received from the key ex-service organisations in about [the] 15 months I’ve been in the role is that they are seeing improvements, and they want to see us keep working with them to bed down even further improvements in the future.

“The DVA has to win back the trust of Australian veterans and their families and the service community more generally.”

Cross-party group to be set up

Darren Chester addresses the veterans summit in Canberra

PHOTO: Darren Chester addresses the veterans summit in Canberra. (ABC News)

Mr Chester said he would act upon a recommendation from the summit to contact MPs from all parties with military experience to form a group that will look at veterans’ mental health issues.

When it comes to a royal commission, Mr Chester said “all options are on the table”.

“But what I’ve been saying also quite clearly is, in about four or five days’ time the Productivity Commission is going to give me a report, which it has been working on for the past year,” he said.

“I understand it’s a 1,000-page report, looking at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and making sure it’s fit for purpose for the next 100 years.

“That needs to be worked through as well.”

Discovering ‘why these people have been doing nothing’

Jesse Bird posing in army camouflage with gun

PHOTO: Jesse Bird’s claim was rejected by DVA. (Supplied: Karen Bird)

In 2017, 7.30 reported on the case of Jesse Bird, a veteran of the Afghanistan conflict who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mr Bird took his own life after his claim for permanent impairment was rejected by the DVA.

He died at the age of 32 with just $5.20 in his bank account.

Mr Bird’s stepfather John told 7.30 his file shows his pleas for help were not taken seriously.

“He had his rejection papers prominently displayed along with a lot of other paperwork that he’d had to endure with the DVA,” he told 7.30 in 2017.

Mr Bird’s mother Karen Bird said her son had been pushed into a corner and could not see any other way out.

“He was my first-born son and I don’t have him anymore,” Ms Bird said.

Since Mr Bird’s death there have been major changes inside the DVA and the Government is spending $230 million a year on veteran mental health.

John McNeill, a volunteer who devotes his time to helping veterans navigate the complex claim system, wants a royal commission because of the failings he saw first-hand with Mr Bird’s case.

“The same story has been said over and over and over again about what needs to change. Now it hasn’t,” he said.

“So I believe the royal commission would find out why these people that have been entrusted to be the voice of the veteran community are sitting back and doing nothing to help until the spotlight is shone on them.”

Hundreds of suicides

Warrior's Return collates statistics on suicides by veterans

PHOTO: Warrior’s Return collates statistics on suicides by veterans. (ABC News)

An official estimate records more than 370 suicides involving current or former defence personnel since 2001, with one volunteer group called Warriors Return keeping its own figures on suicide by veterans across the country.

Their research shows there have been 16 suicides this year alone, with 48 last year, 86 in 2017 and 80 in 2016.

But Brian Briggs, a military compensation lawyer with Slater and Gordon, argues against a royal commission.

He believes the money could be better spent fixing problems which are well known.

“I think the money would be more wisely spent elsewhere in providing services to the veterans and to the veteran community, not on having numerous lawyers appearing before the royal commission and spending $80 to $100 million, which is only going to lead to further delays,” he said.

“We already know what the issues are, what they need to do is get things happening and happening fast and happening now.

“All this money that’s being put in, what are the results? That’s where we need to sit back and see what is producing results and what isn’t working — and what isn’t working should be shut down.”

RELATED STORY: Man warned Veterans’ Affairs he could become suicide statistic days before death

RELATED STORY: DVA head offers apology after policy changed to thwart compo claim

RELATED STORY: ‘Bureaucratic bastardry’: DVA secretly changed rules to deny veteran’s claim

If you or anyone you know needs help:

ABC News – 27th June 2019

ABC TV 7.30 Report – Duty of Care

Calls for royal commission over the rate of veteran suicides

There are growing calls for a royal commission into the rate of suicide among military veterans. An official estimate is there have been more than 370 suicides involving current or former defence personnel since 2001. Despite ongoing reforms, the Department of Veterans Affairs is under fire over how it treats compensation claims and the toll it takes on those who have served our country.

Watch the video report here

Wed 26 Jun 2019, 8:45pm

Minister for Veterans Affairs talks about today’s summit on mental health

Minister for Veterans Affairs, Darren Chester, held a summit to discuss the problem of mental health issues among veterans.

Watch the video report here

Wed 26 Jun 2019 8.45 pm