Support on the Road to Recovery
My experience supporting veterans has been varied, confronting at times, and very rewarding.
I consider myself very fortunate because I am in a position which enables me to share the lives and experiences of our veterans and their families.
Staying Positive During DVA Claims
The recent Productivity Commission report, ‘A Better Way To Support Veterans’, noted that “there is some evidence that mental health disorders are more prevalent for veterans than in the wider population.” Suicide rates are higher among male ex-service personnel than Australian men, while ex-service personnel under 30 years old are twice as likely to die by suicide compared to men of the same age.
The same report highlighted that further research is required to better understand the mental health impacts of service life on veterans, their families, and how they can be supported. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) 2017-18 annual report noted that one priority for 2018-19 is an independent review into the mental health impacts of claims assessment processes on veterans and their families.
Step 1 – Tap into the Support Network
While veterans might be stepping out of their Defence network, they’re stepping into a much larger veteran network. Tapping into this can provide enormous benefits.
Approximately 5,500 personnel transition out of Defence each year. During this transition, veterans leave a tight network of peers and are often propelled into civilian life where that tight network feels lost. Naturally, it can be a difficult time and it may feel as though they have lost the support from the mates they spent every day with.
From our experience at RSL DefenceCare, we often see veterans lose their sense of identity and purpose once separated from their Defence family. This can often lead them into isolation and have a wider impact on their overall wellbeing.
Fortunately, the veteran network across Australia is vast and there are multiple pathways a veteran can become involved in. For the last hundred years, ‘mates helping out mates’ has been at the very heart of the RSL. It is a culture that has strengthened over time and thrived in the wider veteran community.
Excellent organisations such as Veteran Sport Australia have been specifically created to connect veterans and their families with individual and team sport, recreational programs, one-off competitive events, camps and games.
Research shows veterans who lead an active and healthy lifestyle are likely to experience happier and healthier lives including positive mental health outcomes. This is the primary goal of Veteran Sport Australia.
Step 2 – Seek Professional and Expert Assistance
Whether it’s DVA claims or something else, seeking professional assistance can help in moments of crisis and can also help achieve clarity and control moving forward.
Historically, veteran support networks have been led by volunteers. Now, professional organisations like RSL DefenceCare are here to provide additional support.
My professional world is focused around veteran claims and appeals. The legislation framework in this area is extremely complex. There are three main Acts that determine the support available to veterans, depending on where and when they served.
Due to this complexity, a veteran can very quickly get lost in understanding what benefits they may be entitled to. Therefore, it is vital they seek expert advice.
In addition, negative views of DVA can have an adverse impact or even prevent a veteran reaching out for help.
Over the years, we have seen thousands of veterans and their families whose lives have changed for the better because of DVA. We feel it is our responsibility to help share these experiences with you to encourage positive conversations and perceptions and hope no one ever feels they can’t reach out for help.
At RSL DefenceCare, we have seen the entire spectrum of challenges our veterans face.
We have seen veterans in crisis from all sides – homelessness, poverty, poor mental health, physical injuries and disabilities, loss and other service-related traumas etc.
RSL DefenceCare has a team of professionals who are well trained to respond to the needs of our veterans and their families in crisis. We are highly trained in the areas of legislation, the provision of services at DVA and we support our veterans with clear, accurate and independent advice.
Through practical support, we help veterans build their own relationship with DVA and help DVA to better understand the needs of our veterans.
Step 3 – Recognise the Small Wins
Recognising small wins and positive moments is a big factor in maintaining good mental health throughout a long and complex process.
Complex claims and appeals can take a considerable time to reach a resolution.
We understand this can impact life, the mental health of a veteran and those who love and support them.
With professional support, we see veterans show a significant difference in their outlook, especially when we have helped them achieve a positive outcome with DVA or the Veterans’ Review Board.
For those severely affected by mental ill health, we have found individuals have gone from being socially withdrawn to the gradual return to social activities like going to the gym once a week.
It is important we communicate and provide reassurance to veterans and remind them they have not been forgotten and that they will always have a place and a group of people to turn to in the event of a crisis.
It is also important we acknowledge all accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem or what area of life they come from. This may include circumstances like finding a new job, the birth of a child, getting out of the house or, having a medical condition accepted for liability from DVA.
A Final Note for Veterans and Health Professionals
There is help available. All current and ex-serving members of the ADF with at least one day of full-time service are eligible to access DVA-funded mental health treatment for any diagnosed mental health condition. This extends to counselling services provided by Open Arms for the veteran and their family. RSL DefenceCare can help veterans understand what’s available to them.
DVA offers a number of resources to address veteran mental health. There are online resources aimed at veterans, and webinars aimed at assisting health professionals to support veterans and their families.
About the Author
James Dallas is Manager Claims & Advocacy at RSL DefenceCare. He assists veterans and their families achieve positive outcomes through claims with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and appeals to the Veterans’ Review Board. James is an Australian Army, Infantry veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.