72,000 Australians have served in the Australian Defence Force since 1990, and thousands will be affected by their service, be it physically or psychologically. Non-profit organisation Soldier On provides a suite of services and access to partner organisations to meet the needs of our wounded and their families so that they can start their journey on the road to recovery.
As the great-granddaughter of a prisoner of war on the Thai Burma Railway, Karleen Harrington was told growing up that the family wasn’t permitted to talk to ‘Pop’ about the war and his experiences. Now as the Relationship Manager for Soldier On, Karleen understands how important it is that these traumatic experiences are brought to light and dealt with properly. We spoke with her about the organisation and their upcoming Mateship Run.
Can you please tell us a bit about the team behind Soldier On, and how the organisation began?
Soldier On was founded in 2012 by John Bale, his wife Danielle Clout and Cavin Wilson following the death of a friend killed by an IED in Afghanistan in 2008. This tragic event and the subsequent impact it had on those who had survived the blast, exposed a gap in the support available to returned service personnel and their families. At this time, there was no clear or accessible means for members of the Defence Force, or the public, to show their support for those wounded and assist in their rehabilitation.
Soldier On was established to support the health and wellbeing of Australians who have been affected by their service and their families. This includes any Australian Defence Force service men or women, Australian Public Servant or any person who has been wounded physically or mentally in service to their country since 1990.
For the uninitiated, what is involved in the Mateship Run and how does it help the organisation and its clients?
The Mateship Run Gold Coast is a charity fun run/walk/push activity incorporating 10km, 5km, and 1.5km distances at Currumbin on Sun 24 April 2016.
The run is an opportunity to come together and recognise the extraordinary contribution our ANZACs make – past and present – through participating in a healthy fun activity while raising funds to assist with the build of a new SOLDIER ON charity centre on the Gold Coast. Supported by Currumbin RSL, participants of all ages, sizes and fitness levels are encouraged to enter in a walk or run with friends, family and work colleagues as we celebrate the camaraderie and mateship of our heroes.
Currently, we receive no government funding in Queensland and it’s through community events such as the Mateship Run, Tough Mudder and KPMG Rotary Kokoda Classic that we are able to raise funds to deliver our programs.
How many people does Soldier On assist at any one time?
Soldier On already connects with more than 500 people across the country each month by:
• enhancing their rehabilitation through sports therapy and active adventures;
• inspiring them to seek help and recognise the symptoms of mental health issues;
• connecting them with their communities and proving quality time with their families; and
• empowering them to have successful future through education and rewarding employment.
On the Gold Coast, we are working with between 30-40 veterans and families per month. We also have veterans and their families from as far and wide as the Sunshine Coast, Ipswich, Lismore and Coffs Harbour attending our Currumbin office for support. That is an indication of the need in the contemporary veteran community, it’s huge. As state operations expand this year we anticipate this number to increase to approximately 200.
What are the main kinds of issues experienced by returning service men and women?
- More than 15 thousand have experienced physical and mental injury, or will during their lifetime – 1 in 5;
- 3000 veterans in Australia are homeless (26 families in northern NSW, Tweed, Gold Coast area);
- More than 260 suicides (The suicide rates in our contemporary veteran community are alarming approx. 10 this year – 3 last week);
- Sense of belonging goes missing after discharge;
- The camaraderie and mateship in defence is not replicated anywhere else;
- Find themselves in unfamiliar territory without purpose and little support
- Social isolation;
- Family units breaking down;
- Partners often left with income responsibility (If wounded, this is often permanent, or recovery takes years);
- Issues transitioning into civilian employment;
- Skills gained in defence are not recognised in civilian employment (Non transferrable skills – infantry);
- Family will be without them for approx. 5 years;
- Miss 14 birthdays;
- Miss 8 anniversaries;
- Miss 2 graduations;
- Move home 4 times in 10 years.
What are the services provided by Soldier On?
Soldier On provides a suite of services and access to partner organisations to meet the needs of our wounded so that they can start the journey on their road to recovery. Some examples include:
- Dedicated support staff – staff delivering face-to-face support have been vital to the organisation’s early success. They provide advice, run support programs and help to guide wounded veterans and their families through a confusing time in their lives. On staff psychologists are also employed to deliver sessions with veterans and their families.
- Support programs – these are based around exercise and sports recovery; social events and building an informal support network; weekend respite and family outings; creative classes; and much more.
- Family and Community Outreach – families are an invaluable part of any wounded veteran’s support network. As such, partners and children have access to all our support programs and psychological care.
- Education and Employment Assistance – partnering with industry, we provide free educational opportunities (diplomas, certificates etc.) to reskill and upskill those who have discharged. Employment support, such as resume building, qualification assessment, interview training and a dedicated employment portal are also established for use by veterans and their partners.
- Links with other organisations – collaboration is key, and where another organisation provides support where we don’t, we will work to refer veterans and their families where ever appropriate. This helps avoid any gaps in the rehabilitation process.
Healthy lifestyle social activities such as yoga and cycling are designed to connect veterans and families, whilst at the same time providing a platform to support in recovery, positive mental health, pain management, injury rehabilitation and ensure opportunities are provided to allow the best mental and physical outcomes for veterans.
If there is any veteran or their family member reading this, they can contact Karleen at email@example.com or 02 6188 6171.
Sign up for the Mateship Run on Sunday 24th April at mateshiprun.com.au