‘One of the great ironies of my career was to be a young soldier and an in-patient at the Repatriation General Hospital Daw Park and then find myself at the RGH as a trainee social worker some six years later. I think in many respects this was the start of my interest in working with veterans and their families,’ says Steve Dunning, a counsellor with the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) in South Australia.
Steve’s involvement with the military has taken him places over the last 40 years, from enlisting in the Army in the early 1970s, to deploying on multiple operations as a reservist in the Royal Australian Navy as recently as 2012. Steve describes his most recent deployment, to the Middle East, as one of the biggest challenges of his career.
‘I was there when we experienced two significant “green on blue” incidents where rogue Afghan soldiers killed and wounded a number of ADF personnel. As a staff officer in the Headquarters Joint Task Force 633, I was involved in the initial reporting of the incidents through to the repatriation of those personnel either killed or wounded in action back to Australia or to medical facilities for further treatment.’
This incident and other challenges fueled Steve’s passion for his work in the VVCS. As a trained social worker and former counsellor with the Defence Community Organisation, Steve is only too familiar with the challenges facing serving members and their families in times of grief and significant change.
‘I felt that with my background and experience I could have a significant impact in helping people. Coming from a strong military background and being exposed to many of the experiences of not only being brought up in a service family, but also serving myself, I thought I could offer another insight and level of expertise to VVCS, my colleagues and our clients. I find my colleagues appreciate my experience and knowledge of the services and will often use me as a sounding board or an additional resource for working with our clients.’
For Steve, the most rewarding experience as a VVCS counsellor is seeing veterans, once in crisis, who have managed to turn their lives around during periods of considerable stress and turmoil. Often clients have struggled for significant periods in both their personal and work lives with the trauma brought on through their service in the ADF. This impact on families and loved ones can be far reaching and, for some, life changing.
Steve remains very active in the Reserves, particularly in the area of mental health support where he has co-facilitated 20 Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training workshops for the ADF’s Suicide Prevention Program.