Veteran Family Advocate Commissioner – Gwen Cherne

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A word from Gwen

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Portrait of Gwen Cherne taken in 2023

As the Veteran Family Advocate Commissioner, my main role is to represent veteran families and work towards improving policies, programs, and services that help them deal with the challenges of Defence and veteran family life. I do this by collaborating with the community, finding areas that need improvement, and advocating for flexible and supportive systems for veteran families and this covers everything from enlistment to the end of their lives and beyond.

In my position, I make sure that DVA considers the needs of families and adopts practices that are sensitive to their unique situations. I also engage with and examine issues that affect veteran families, providing advice on policies and operations. I identify any gaps in the services available to veteran families and speak up for them, sharing their stories and highlighting their importance in the well-being of veterans and their families. I also work on connecting DVA with other services to create a comprehensive support network for veterans and their families.

As part of my role, I lead veteran family engagement on behalf of the Minister for Veterans Affairs and I do this by actively building relationships with various government agencies, the veteran community, and organisations representing the interests of veteran families. These connections help me stay updated on the latest developments and collaborate effectively.

To learn more about my activities in this space, you can click on the below links to access my Interviews, Publications and Presentations.

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Media Interviews and Publications

Snapshots

Briefs

Vet Affairs Articles

Interviews

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Advocacy and Achievements

Reflecting on my time in the role, I am reminded that change takes time, and comes about through small iterative steps. But over time these changes accumulate, and it’s only when you pause and look back that you can see how far you’ve come. Since starting in my role, I have seen a lot of change take place in how veteran families are supported.

I use a simple, living document to track milestones and wins along the way to serve and provide transparency regarding the efforts of the Veteran Family Advocate Commissioner Office. It encompasses achievements and ongoing advocacy spanning several years. When observing the content within, one can gain a wide-ranging understanding of the positive developments and the continued endeavours to enhance support for veteran families:

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Research & Practical Resources

Research

There is more and more research happening for Australian Veteran Families. I participate in a number of advisory boards, committees, consortiums and forums to represent veteran families, provide advice and contribute to the research.

If you are interested in finding out more about research that is being partnered, undertaken, completed by organisations, and published to enhance the health, wellbeing and services of veteran families you can visit some of the below databases.

Research Databases
Organisation Type Databases
Department of Veterans' Affairs Research and Publications Research and Studies | Department of Veterans' Affairs (dva.gov.au)
Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation Research Institute Research Institute - Gallipoli (gallipoliresearch.com.au) – Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation
Australian Institute of Family Studies Research  Research | Australian Institute of Family Studies (aifs.gov.au) - Australian Institute of Family Studies
Open Arms - Veterans and Families Counselling Research and Collaboration Research and collaboration | Open Arms – Open Arms – Veteran and Families Counselling
University of New England Australian Military Families Research Program Australian Military Families Research Program - University of New England (UNE) – University of New England – Australian Military Families Research Program
Military and Emergency Services Health Australia Research and Publications Research and Publications - Military and Emergency Services Health Australia (MESHA) – Military and Emergency Services Health Australia
Phoenix Australia Research - Military Military - Phoenix Australia – Phoenix Australian
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Veterans Veterans Reports - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (aihw.gov.au) – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
National Centre for Veterans' Healthcare Veterans Brain Bank Home - Veterans Brain Bank – In collaboration with National Centre for Veterans’ Healthcare  and RPA’s Hospital – establishment of the Australians  Veterans Brain Bank  
Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Defence Force Australian Defence Force service | Australian Bureau of Statistics (abs.gov.au)
Australian Bureau of Statistics Service with the Australian Defence Force - Census Service with the Australian Defence Force: Census, 2021 | Australian Bureau of Statistics (abs.gov.au)
FiMT Research Centre Knowledge Repository International Research Database
Forces in Mind Trust - Research Centre
Articles | FiMT Research Centre (fimt-rc.org)
Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health International Research Database
Research and Publications
Home (utpjournals.press)

The following table displays some of the 2023 research and projects you may be interested in. A more comprehensive list, including research and projects from 2020-2023 is available to download:

2023 Research and Projects
Organisation Theme Name of Study/Research Key Description Link
RAND Organisation Financial Stability of UK Military Families Examining the financial stability of UK military families An exploratory analysis 28 June 2023, and Understanding and supporting the financial stability of UK military families: Summary of findings and recommendations for policy and practice. This research brief summarises the findings and recommendations for policy and practice from a study looking at the prevalence and drivers of financial (in)stability among military families in the United Kingdom. Examining the financial stability of UK military families | RAND
Military and Emergency Services Health Australia Defence and Emergency Personnel National Framework for vital postvention support Developing a 'National Framework to support Families and Co-workers of Defence and Emergency Services Personnel who have died by suicide', informed by lived experience. This postvention study will continue into 2023 with the aim to complete it by mid 2024. A national first to help families and co-workers - Military and Emergency Services Health Australia (MESHA)
Military and Emergency Services Health Australia Defence and Emergency Personnel Stress-response and metabolic systems in children living in military and first responder families: Potential for targets for individualising exercise treatment of anxiety? This study will provide an integrated understanding of childhood anxiety by investigating the responses of these systems to an acute exercise bout before and after a five-week exercise intervention in children (5-9 years) living in military or first responder families. The study aims to develop a screening tool for investigating possible dysregulated biological mechanisms associated with anxiety and investigate the effects of an individualised five-week exercise intervention to improve these mechanisms and assist in the treatment of youth anxiety in military and first-responder families. Stress-Response And Metabolic Systems In Children Living In Military And First Responder Families: Potential Targets For Individualising Exercise Treatment Of Anxiety? (mesha.org.au)
Australia Institute of Family Studies Health of Veterans' Families Strengthening and protecting veteran family relationships The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) is conducting this research with the Department of Veterans' Affairs who funded and sponsored the study, supported by the Department of Defence. Strengthening and Protecting Veteran Family Relationships is a research study looking at programs or services that aim to strengthen couple relationships where one (or both) partners are current or ex-serving Australian Defence Force members. Strengthening and protecting veteran family relationships | Australian Institute of Family Studies (aifs.gov.au)
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Health of Veterans Health of Veterans Report Veterans – permanent, reserve and ex-serving members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) – and their families are an important population group for health and welfare monitoring. The unique nature of ADF service promotes protective factors that can lead to improved health outcomes but also exposes members to risk factors that may lead to poor health during and after their military service. Health of veterans, Summary - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (aihw.gov.au)
Military and Emergency Services Health Australia Health of Veterans Gambling problems predict suicidality in recently transitioned military veterans This study investigated associations between gambling problems and suicidality in Australian veterans. Gambling problems predict suicidality in recently transitioned military veterans - Military and Emergency Services Health Australia (MESHA)
Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation Health of Veterans Post Traumatic Sleep Disturbances in Veterans: A Pilot Randomized Control Trial of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia and Imagery Rehearsal Therapy Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with sleep disturbances including insomnia and nightmares. This study compared cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) with CBT-I combined with imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT) for nightmares to evaluate if the combined treatment led to greater reductions in trauma-related sleep disturbances in Australian veterans. Study highlights effective treatment for sleep disturbances in veterans - Gallipoli (gallipoliresearch.com.au)

Practical Resources

Practical resources that may help members of the current or ex-serving military community find support, practical guidance and resources:

Practical resources to help find support, practical guidance and resources
Organisation Theme Support and Resources Key Description Link
Australian Institute of Family Studies Working with children and Young People Helplines, telephone and online counselling services for children, young people and adults This resource sheet is designed to provide practitioners and service providers with the contact details and links to helplines, telephone and online counselling services for children, young people and adults. It includes services related to topics such as family and domestic violence, gambling, mental health and wellbeing, alcohol and drug use, legal services and parenting. It also includes services specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and people living or working in rural areas. Services are grouped according to the location in which they operate. Helplines, telephone and online counselling services for children, young people and adults | Australian Institute of Family Studies (aifs.gov.au)
Department of Veterans' Affairs Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) for veterans and veteran families Launched a dedicated webpage for Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) for veterans and veteran families. The intention of the page is to support clients (or any interested party) to identify FDV, and outline supports offered by DVA in simple digestible language consistent with trauma informed practice. It is also in keeping with crisis sensitivity, providing short succinct information and a quick exit option. Family and domestic violence help | Department of Veterans' Affairs (dva.gov.au)
Department of Veterans' Affairs Support for Veteran Families Crisis Payment The Crisis Payment is designed to assist the person to establish themselves in a new residence following extreme circumstances forcing departure from the home such as natural disasters, or, for a victim of domestic or family violence to re-establish their current residence after the perpetrator of the violence has left or been removed from the home. A Crisis Payment may also be payable following release from lawful custody. Crisis Payment | Department of Veterans' Affairs (dva.gov.au)
Department of Veterans' Affairs Support for Veteran Families Partners Service Pension (PSP) Partners of veterans in receipt of the Partner Service Pension (PSP), who separate because of the veteran's abusive behaviour, may continue to receive the payment indefinitely. This was a commitment in the Fourth Action Plan - National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022, which extended eligibility to support more former partners experiencing family and domestic violence. Service pension for partners | Department of Veterans' Affairs (dva.gov.au)
South Australian Office for Women Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV) fact sheets for the military community The experience of family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV) for families in the military community is unique and complex. Family members may be isolated from traditional support networks due to regular relocation and unsure where to get help. Office for Women - Safety and wellbeing
Resolute Ready Mental Health Resolute Ready - One Stop Shop A global mental health hub for everyone.  We are not a clinical professional or government organisation. We are a community who have first-hand experience of the mental and physical challenges that are experienced by many returned Veterans. We exist to see a stop in the generational cycle of service trauma in Military, First Responder connected families, to see relationships restored, and to do what we can to prevent suicide. We support the community in Mental Health. Resolute Ready | One Stop, One Call, One Life
Open Arms Veterans and Families Counselling Health of Veterans and Families Open Arms model of care The Open Arms model of care is family inclusive, recognising the importance of engaging family members to address the potential impact of mental health issues and military service on veterans and their families.
Families have needs in their own right and are able to access Open Arms services independent of the veterans, who may or may not access the service themselves.
Open Arms services include counselling for individuals, couples and families; group programs to enhance support; lived experience peer support (including family peers); after hours telephone counselling; and mental health literacy training.
Who we help | Open Arms
Department of Veterans' Affairs Ex-Service Organisations Ex-Service Organisations An ex-service organisation (ESO) supports current and former ADF members and their families.
They can support you with:
- advocacy services to access payments and other benefits
- visitation services at home, hospital or an aged care home
- seeking financial help, employment or vocational studies
- social activities to make friendships and to improve general health and wellbeing.
- They also support you by lobbying governments for better services and payments to live a meaningful life.

Support for advocates & ex-service organisations | Department of Veterans' Affairs (dva.gov.au)

What is an ex-service organisation? | Department of Veterans' Affairs (dva.gov.au)
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Social Media

I like to publish up-to-date news and events on my social media accounts so if you are interested in my work please visit and follow me on:

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Contact Gwen

As a member of the Repatriation Commission, Gwen is independent of DVA.

Contact the Veteran Family Advocate Commissioner: VFA [at] dva.gov.au

Read more about Gwen Cherne in her biography

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