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Veteran Peer to Peer Support Program

RSL DefenceCare in partnership with St John of God Richmond Hospital are pleased to be involved in the delivery of one of two, Veteran Peer to Peer Support Programs being piloted nationally in 2016.
 
Social connection is a key component of recovery from mental health conditions and peers with a lived experience can assist with this connection. Individuals experiencing mental illness who are well supported, can have a greater sense of control in their illness management, are able to envisage a path to wellness and are more likely to recover.
 

What is the Veteran Peer to Peer Support Program?

The Veteran Peer to Peer Support Program will support recovery of ex-service Australian Defence Force (ADF) members (referred to as peers) with a mental health condition through skilled peer mentors.
 
The program will match ex-serving ADF members as mentors and peers in a 3 month (minimum) 1 on 1 peer mentoring relationship.
 
A peer mentor is someone who has successfully progressed along the path of recovery and rehabilitation to be able to act as a model of support in the recovery and wellbeing of a fellow ex-service ADF member (peer) with similar lived experiences. A peer mentor’s role is to provide assistance to their peer, based on the belief that individuals who have shared lived experiences of life issues, can better relate to other individuals trying to deal with similar issues.
 
The Veteran Peer to Peer Support Program is designed to create a ‘helping relationship’ in the form of communication and visits between a peer and a peer mentor who have some similarities in experiences of military service and mental health challenges.
 
The Program includes a FREE three day training course for peer mentors, followed by a minimum of five to six face to face visits with the peers over a three month period. peer mentors will be fully supported throughout the program. Involvement as a peer mentor or as a peer is voluntary.
 
More information can be found by downloading this brochure


Veteran Peer to Peer Support Mentor – Amy

Amy was an Australian Army medic for just over 12 years. She served all around Australia undertook overseas deployments in East Timor, Pakistan, Fiji and border protection off Christmas Island.
 
Now discharged, Amy is one of the first mentors in the trial Veteran Peer to Peer Support program being run by DefenceCare with the support of St John of God Richmond Hospital.
 
The Program helps with the recovery of ex-service Australian Defence Force members with a mental health condition by pairing them with skilled Peer Mentors who have also experienced mental ill-health.
 
The Program creates a ‘helping relationship’ in the form of communication and visits between a Peer and a Peer Mentor with similarities in experiences of military service and mental health challenges.
 
The volunteer Peer Mentors have recovered sufficiently to provide insight and support for Peers who are on their own recovery journey. Amy is one of the first Peer Mentors in the program.
 
Amy met her husband whilst in the Army, when they were in Albury-Wodonga together.
 
During the initial years while posted in Darwin, both were very busy going out field, courses and deploying together to East Timor. Later on during the first year of marriage, Amy and her husband were only together for 13 days in total and at one time missed each other by 4 hours.
 
Amy recalls the time of her Pakistan deployment where there was a need to liaise with the Pakistan Air Force Senior Medical Officer (SMO) and it was especially difficult due to her gender and the need for a chaperone. The SMO was unable to look at her or shake her hand and her chaperone who did not have a medical background had to be part of the conversation.
Communication was their toughest challenge at the Air Force base due to outdated equipment and the need for chaperones and guides. Talking to the Senior Medical Officer for the Pakistani Army was especially difficult due to her gender – the foreign officer was unable to look at her or shake her hand.
 
The events of September 11 2001 happened on the day Amy went on her Army medic’s course. She recalls sitting with her colleagues and a nursing officer watching in disbelief as the events unfolded. This was a clear turning point, with the nursing officer confirming that this event would change ‘everything’.
 
After her next deployment Amy and her husband decided to start a family and start thinking about the next goals. So Amy decided to become a Registered Nurse and juggle study, motherhood, fulltime Army and running a household.
 
“At the time I wanted to leave the ADF, I realised Army life had changed and I was going in a different direction”. Amy found as a nurse she could give holistic care which lacked in the ADF.
“I went on my own journey, but I did miss the friendship and the team orientated purpose ADF provided. I felt like I’d lost my identity and even thought I wanted to take this path, there was still something missing.
 
“I had to start all over again and find new networks. I realised my service and Defence career had changed my perceptions and values in life. In the Army you know exactly what you have to do and who you are, but I found it challenging to find that spot in civilian life.”
 
Amy first heard about DefenceCare, through the Women Veterans’ Network Australia (WVNA), when she was in Queensland.  She became aware of the Veteran Peer to Peer Support Program at this time and wasn’t really sure about becoming involved.
 
It was when Amy met team members of DefenceCare at a young veteran’s forum and with the support from WVNA that she decided she wanted to hear more and be involved.
 
“My own experiences with mental ill health have helped me see the value in this program. To have someone with a lived experience to help you through day to day life is invaluable.
 
“I jumped on board due to my own experiences in the service and with my family. It’s such a needed service and so important that we do this.
 
“The program can give us the tools and skills to relate in some way even if the service and experience is not the same. Mentors know about other services out there so it can help with referrals and advice. You are also a bit more fluid and social than in a clinical setting.
 
“If I could pass on any words about the Program, it is that you need to give it a go. It’s an important program, providing younger veterans with mateship at a time that they really need it.”


Veteran Peer to Peer Support Mentor – Lee

Lee served within the Australian Army Infantry for almost 12 years. He served with the following regiments - Reserves 51st battalion FNQR, 1RAR, 6RAR and discharged in 2012.
 
Lee felt called to join the Australian Defence Force - he wanted to be of service. Being in the military seemed to him the best way to do this - and being an infantry soldier was the best option for him.
 
Deploying to Afghanistan in 2007 with 1RAR, and again 2010 with 6RAR, Lee left behind his daughter, girlfriend, parents, brothers and sisters.
Lee enjoyed deployment - he believed in what he was doing and loved doing it.
 
In 2007, Lee was blown up by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and in 2008 was diagnosed with PTSD.
 
He began treatment with the aim of getting back to full duties as soon as he could and was successfully redeployed to Afghanistan with 6RAR in 2010.
 
Lee was very happy to be back doing his job; he was a career soldier. But soon he found himself unable to continue with regular duties due the debilitating effects of PTSD.
 
When he returned to Australia he began the long process of medical retirement and with it came feelings of profound disappointment as his fulfilling military career was over.
 
After almost a year, Lee found that he was unable to work, unable to maintain relationships, and barely able to function at all. He didn't understand what had happened. Lee kept trying to get on with life and kept failing.
 
It was at this time, that Lee found himself homeless – he was living in his car, facing bankruptcy, feeling completely hopeless and helpless.
 
Lee attended St. John of God Richmond Hospital, to receive treatment for his PTSD. It was here that he met other veterans, learnt about PTSD and how it affected him.
 
Lee has now become involved in DefenceCare’s Veteran Peer to Peer Support Programme, delivered in partnership with St John of God Richmond Hospital.
 
The Veteran Peer to Peer Support Program helps with the recovery of ex-service Australian Defence Force members with a mental health condition by pairing them with skilled Peer Mentors who have also experienced mental ill-health.
 
The Program creates a ‘helping relationship’ in the form of communication and visits between a Peer and a Peer Mentor with similarities in experiences of military service and mental health challenges.
 
The volunteer Peer Mentors have recovered sufficiently to provide insight and support for Peers who are on their own recovery journey. Lee is one of these Peer Mentors.
 
“I'm happy to be involved in Veteran Peer to Peer mentor program. I'm hopeful that it will prove beneficial and useful to many veterans.”


Veteran Peer to Peer Support Coordinator – Thomas

Tom joined the Royal Australian Navy at the age of nineteen and served for six years as an electrical technician. For most of his career Tom was based in Australia and worked on destroyers.
 
With a strong family history in Defence, Tom joined the Navy to become a member of the Defence family. Being in such a large team was important to him and he was eager to take on the difficult training ahead.
 
As a young single man at the time, Tom also looked forward to the opportunity of travel with the Navy.
 
During his service, Tom participated in a lot of team sport, enjoying the comradery, discipline and training that came with being a member of the Defence Force. 
 
“My New Zealand trip was a Public Relations exercise with the New Zealand forces. I enjoyed the places we visited and the operations we took part in with the New Zealand Navy.
 
“We pulled into a different port every three or four days and I remember really enjoying when the Australians played sport against the New Zealand Defence Force once or twice a week.”
 
There were other memories as well, including one of a fire that ultimately led to Tom’s medical discharge and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
 
“There was a fire in the mount on the HMAS Brisbane, but the good thing that came out of that incident was that we saved the ship due to our training.
 
“Getting medically discharged, that is a bad memory for me. I felt that I had let down my team.”
 
Adjusting back into civilian life for Tom included a mixture of both good and bad times. The beginning of the process was smooth due to Tom’s age and excitement to see what was ahead. What he also found was that he missed the stability, structure and the comradery.
 
“I got married the day after I got discharged and we bought our first house. It was exciting but in those 12 months it was a total shift in life for me and my family.”
 
The most difficult part of the transition process for Tom was retraining and gaining civilian qualifications at a time when he was suffering.
 
“I got through it but it was hard. I went back as a fourth year apprentice electrician when I got out. I had to learn a lot while I was suffering from a medical condition that I didn’t understand.”
 
Tom has been involved with RSL DefenceCare initially receiving assistance, and then entering the Veteran Peer to Peer Support program as a mentor.
 
“I got involved in the Veteran Peer to Peer Support Mentor program initially as a Mentor through an email from one of the claims advisors at RSL DefenceCare. I was excited to be involved and eventually this has led to me becoming the RSL DefenceCare Peer to Peer Coordinator across this pilot project.
 
“I’m very grateful that I was introduced to RSL DefenceCare via Homes for Heroes and I am so very grateful to be able to pay back the investment they made in me through their services. I am looking forward to the challenge ahead with my new role, supporting other Australian Veterans.”