Narrow perceptions of veterans, and a lack of health professionals with an understanding of the Defence Force, are among barriers in access to veterans’ health services, researchers at the Bolton Clarke Research Institute (BCRI) have found.
The team interviewed 62 individuals and families either currently serving in the Defence Force or who were veterans of conflicts from World War II to the present day.
Focus groups and expert panels were drawn from a variety of groups serving the ex-services community.
Researcher Dr Liz Cyarto, who worked with fellow BCRI researchers Dr Judy Lowthian, Dr Marissa Dickins and Georgina Johnstone on the project, told the Institute’s The Reality of Mental Health symposium in Melbourne better support was still needed for the transition from active service.
“One of the major areas where support was identified as lacking was in the transition space, where members are leaving the Defence Force,” she said.
“The stark contrast between the investment in intake and exit was evident – three months plus of training to go in compared with one or two days on leaving, if lucky.
“The unwinding of the process that trained members to be soldiers never seemed to be addressed, which was of real concern to all involved.
Public perceptions and entrenched stereotypes also led to people not accessing veterans health services because they didn’t feel they qualified.
“The importance of not treating all veterans as one group was raised, with veterans ranging from 19 to 109 and participating in numerous theatres of war in many countries.
“We can’t have a one size fits all approach to support.
“Female veterans spoke of their experiences with health professionals and the general public, who did not see them as worthy of recognition.”
“As a female veteran, you are told ‘How can you be a veteran when you’re not on the frontline? Or because you’re not infantry, ‘How can you suffer mental health issues’?” a female ex-Australian Defence Force member said.
“Younger veterans also spoke of the difference between the light in which they saw themselves and the perception of what a veteran should be – a Digger, the glorified ANZAC stereotype.”
Accessing support services and navigating the enormous number of ex-service organisations, was described as “a long, detrimental journey full of bureaucracy”.
The study also identified the need for health professionals to understand military service and for support services to treat the whole person, including their relationships, employment, physical and mental health.
Dr Cyarto said ex-services personnel identified having GPs and doctors who understood military experience as important. Health professionals also needed to foster trust and rapport ” and support people to participate meaningfully in the community.
The research will be used to inform further work around removing barriers for veterans in accessing health support, and educating health care workers.
21-29 October is Veterans Health Week.