by Dr Jenny Firman
Chief Health Officer
Department of Veterans’ Affairs
For most, serving in the Australian Defence Force is overwhelmingly a positive experience and they transition into civilian life successfully. However, almost three in four transitioned ADF members are estimated to have had a mental health disorder during their lifetime, either prior to, during or after their military caree. Mental health prevalence report.
Between 2015 and 2017, the suicide rate for ex-serving men was 1.18 times (18%) higher than Australian men. Over the same period, the suicide rate of ex-serving females was 2.15 times (115%) higher than Australian females.
For clinicians working with veterans, demonstrating an understanding of the military experience can enhance the therapeutic alliance and the delivery of effective treatment. Veterans are more likely to engage with health care practitioners they feel understand, or seek to understand, their mental health problems within the context of their military service.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has partnered with Phoenix Australia, Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health to deliver the Practitioner Support Service - a multi-disciplinary team of mental health experts who can be consulted on veteran specific mental health and trauma matters.
The Veteran Mental Health GP Assistance Hotline provides access to free consultations with veteran mental health experts, including Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology consultations.
The Hotline can be accessed by calling 1800 VET777 or through the Phoenix Australia website which also provides links to best practice and professional development resources.
In May 2020, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs launched the new four-year Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy and National Action Plan.
Over the course of this four-year strategy, DVA will drive a series of changes to enable a shift from an illness focus to a wellness focus. This hotline is just another way that DVA is supporting those integral to a veteran’s health and wellbeing.
DVA is also establishing a Community of Practice (COP) for Trauma Recovery Program providers, dedicated to the provision of evidence-based mental health care for veterans.
This new COP will enable providers to come together to share learnings and generate best practice approaches to supporting veterans who are being treated for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health conditions.
The GP hotline and COP form part of the Australian Government’s expanded services to ensure veterans and their treating clinicians can access expert advice and guidance on treatment and support for veterans with mental health issues.
For more information on veteran mental health and how GPs and health providers play a vital role in helping our veterans visit the DVA website www.dva.gov.au.