Factors affecting Veteran health in New Zealand
Every year Linton Army Camp hold a wellness expo for service personnel and their families.
Danny Nelson was invited to present a TED talk at this years Expo. His presentation explored current social, economic and cultural changes in terms of mental health, transition and other issues affecting the military service and ex-service people. It also highlighted the necessity of initiatives like the Burnham Hub model.
Younger personnel not identifying with the term Veteran
Many younger service people have difficulty identifying themselves with the term Veteran. For many the term is reserved for the older generation and operational service only. However, the term Veteran needs to be owned by service and ex-service personnel as a title that recognises the unique achievement of serving in the military regardless of age. From an RSA perspective having military service, regardless of overseas deployments, entitles service and ex-service people and their family to support.
While legislation narrowly defines what a veteran is, a more universal term is being sought. One idea is that the title of service person is one who is currently in active service regardless of routine or operational deployments. A Veteran would be a title for everyone with military service once they leave the military, to recognise the sacrifices and duty of higher care they gave. An acronym is also an option. Perhaps something which embraces the wider concept of what a veteran means, such as Former and Active Regular and Territorial Service person. However, referring to service and ex-service people as FARTS probably doesn’t quite cut it;-)
Accepting a mental health issue is difficult
The alarming statistics highlighting the state of mental health in NZ is definite cause for concern. Furthermore, mental health problems arising from military service is common yet many of those who suffer, do so in silence. Providing support for these personnel first requires them to admit they need help, not an easy task when you are trained to be self-sufficient and not a burden! Intrinsically many believe they should be able to cope and therefore carry on like normal. Unfortunately, the impact of this belief can be disastrous to individuals and their families.
In NZ the cost of housing, fuel and food is increasing which is seeing a growing divide between the wealthy and those considered living in hardship. With key international players beginning to throw their economic might about, this is adding even more uncertainty to the future. Service and ex-service people are not immune from mental health problems and economic hardship.
Changes in the military environment
The NZDF today deals with multiple theatres of operations at any one time. Service people can roll through multiple deployments to locations, often with an unidentifiable enemy. These can include situations where the civilians are the aggressors or where civilians are deliberately targeted causing large humanitarian suffering and where friendly force objectives are ill-defined or almost impossible to achieve. There is no frontline.
As a result of these and other environmental changes, the term Moral Injury is being used more to describe the psychological impact of being exposed to situations in which you are morally opposed to.
There needs to be a greater understanding of the new normal. We have to have things in place to help our people without the stigma of whether or not they are a veteran or admitting they need support. There is a need for a more systematic way of providing consistent and professional support. Multiple stakeholders working together and sufficiently trained and resourced to tackle problems from different angles and perspectives.
The HUB model
The Hub model which has been piloted at Burnham Military Camp goes some way to achieving more effective outcomes for our serving women and men. The hub model integrates NZDF health and wellness services with RSA support. It allows the NZDF to tap into support platforms that are outside the wire, widening financial and health support opportunities to service people and their families. The RSA has links to internal financial support via trust funds, the ability to advocate on behalf of service people without compromising organisational intent and can act as a neutral third party who links to other NGOs to further spread support.
In Burnham the synergy of this relationship works well. Led by Lorraine Aitken and Brain Mannix, it not only helps service people but also their families and the NZDF organisation as a whole.
The RSA are proud to be a part of the collaboration which forms the Burnham Hub model. Every day the RSA movement helps all service personnel and their families get the support they need.
Danny Nelson (author) is the Senior Strategic Advisor at the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association