Open Arms advisor works in bushfire aftermath

Veterans have made a huge contribution to the bushfire crisis over the summer.

21 April 2020

One example is Kris O’Brien, a former rifleman with the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment who’s now a Community and Peer Advisor with Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling.

Community and Peer Advisors are ‘lived experience’ peers who work collaboratively with veterans, families, community agencies and mental health clinicians.

In January, Open Arms seconded Kris to Team Rubicon Australia (TRA), which uses the skills and experiences of veterans to rapidly deploy emergency response teams to natural disaster areas around Australia and the world. Ever since, he’s been operating in the field as a liaison between the two organisations, linking Open Arms community engagement teams with TRA volunteers, known as ‘Greyshirts’. Kris also helps raise awareness among TRA volunteers and the veterans he encounters about the counselling services provided by Open Arms. And in addition, he provides communications and technical support to TRA as needed.

Kris is eminently qualified for this role because in 2018 he became TRA’s National Technology Manager — a voluntary position that involves running a team responsible for establishing communications links such as radio and satellite communications while utilising GPS safety equipment and developing capability.

Though busy, Kris describes his secondment as his dream job — one that he’s been working towards ever since he left the Army in 2014. He’s proving himself invaluable to Open Arms, TRA and the veterans he works with in bushfire-affected areas. At the time Vetaffairs spoke to him, Kris had just come back from two weeks in the Cuddlee Creek region near Adelaide and was about to head out to the similarly ravaged East Gippsland area.

‘One of the biggest things that is so inspiring is to see individuals stand up and bring communities back together,’ he says. ‘The people who’ve lost most have been some of the strongest leaders in these communities. And the ability to offer some kind of support is great. I’m extremely lucky to be brought together with people who inspire me on a daily basis.’

Raising awareness of Open Arms is a crucial role.

‘You might not need it now but it’s important to know that these services are available. In the first few weeks after a disaster, the mental health side of things is not a priority for someone who’s lost everything, but in the next few months when the impact starts to hit home, having that information can be invaluable.

‘One of the biggest things instilled in you in the military is that you’re a veteran and that you’re different. But there are a lot of people out there feeling the same way but for different reasons. So there’s never a reason to suffer alone.’

For more information on the Community and Peer Program, visit the Open Arms website or phone 1800 011 046.

Three people pose for a camera in front of a van that says Team Rubicon Field Operations.

Kris (centre) with Team Rubicon Australia CEO Geoff Evans and TRA’s Director of Development Anastasia Bougesis.