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Veterans Connect Service links veterans to needed services and supports

Veterans and their families are more vulnerable to mental health disorders resulting in a higher need for assistance with understanding and accessing appropriate health services. Historically, ex-serving ADF members also face an increased risk of suicide.

The Veterans Connect Care Navigation service was introduced to address these issues and to improve health outcomes for the Veterans community. It was based on a model implemented as a pilot program by the HNECC PHN in 2020, the Refugee Care Navigation program.

The New South Wales Central Coast was selected as the preferred location for the Veterans Connect pilot program as it has a high population of veterans from the Australian Defence Force (ADF) (>4,800) who’s health and welfare needs are greater and more complex in comparison to the broader Australian community. The area also offers a limited range of supports and services for veterans and their families.

Following a tender process, the Veterans Connect program was launched on the Central Coast in March 2023. It is delivered by the community service organisation Social Futures.

The program features ‘Care Coordinators’ who manage referrals for veterans and their families to facilitate access to address physical and mental health and social needs. They work as the contact point, listening, outlining support options then working with the participant to formulate a support plan.

The program identifies appropriate services and provides navigation support to veterans, their families and carers, strengthening their resilience and complementing the support provided by other local programs and services to address service gaps for this population group. This approach also seeks to empower help-seeking behaviours and improve health literacy for veterans and their families.

At the same time the program reinforces the importance of family involvement and education for veterans, an issue highlighted in the Interim Report from the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.

Veterans Connect places a strong emphasis on mental health supports and safety planning while providing light touch signposting to guide individuals and their families to appropriate services in a timely manner. It aims to overcome barriers to care so that returned service personnel are appropriately supported in their civilian life.

The Veterans Connect program prioritises the development of ongoing relationships with local General Practices, Medical Centres and Allied Health Professionals, and works collaboratively with Veterans Support Services such as Legacy, Open Arms, Returned Services League (RSL) Clubs and Department of Veterans Affairs. It is able to link veterans to services and supports ranging from peer groups and clinical services through to financial and career advisors, gyms and other therapies.

To date the Veterans Connect program has worked with more than fifty ex-serving ADF members and their families on the Central Coast. The implementation of this unique service model has delivered a range of benefits for the participating Veterans, their families and carers including:

• Reduced risk of Veteran suicide.
• Increased service accessibility for both Veterans and their families.
• Identification of a significant number of Veteran-Friendly health providers in the Central Coast LGA
• Development of a comprehensive database and ‘warm’ referrals that have eased access to health and social services
• Improved mood and wellbeing of participants, measured through K10 scores.
• Improved connections between healthcare providers and Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA)

Veterans Connect now in the Hunter

To support the continued growth of the Veterans Connect Care Navigation Service, the pilot program has recently expanded into the Hunter region including Port Stephens, Maitland, Lake Macquarie and Newcastle Local Government Areas. This will increase the target group of Veterans, their families and carers to a target population of more than ten thousand (>10,000).

Social Futures will also deliver the Veterans Connect Program in the Hunter Region commencing January 2024.

For more information about the Veterans Connect program click here or call Social Futures on 1800 719 625.

Note: The PHN is facilitating a webinar on the Veterans Connect service. The session, presented by Social Futures, will provide an overview of the service and how GPs, Allied Health and other primary care services can ‘connect in’ with Veterans Connect to support former ADF members and their families to access the correct health care services.

The webinar will be delivered online on Thursday 15 February from 6.30pm to 7.30pm. For further information or to register click here.

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