Advice for veterans and their families

Advice for veterans and their families

19 Jul 2010

This week is Veterans’ Health Week. La Trobe University’s Rick Hayes, leading researcher in men’s health, has some useful advice he hopes will help the many veterans in regional Victoria improve their quality of life, based on his own experience as a veteran and health care professional.  

SoldierRick comes from a family of veterans and he served in the navy for seven years. Part of his service was at the end of the Vietnam War and its aftermath in Southeast Asia. Since then he has experienced varying forms of post traumatic stress. 

‘My wife tells me that I still scream in my sleep.  I know other men and women also have nightmares and it can sometimes place a strain on their partners, children and grandchildren,’ Rick says.

Rick hopes to raise awareness of the issues that veteran’s face everyday- such as reconnecting with family and recovering from depression, anger, frustration and anxiety.

‘I remember returning home in my uniform and having to change back into civilian clothes because people were feeling indifferent and somewhat hostile towards the military because of the War and its aftermath,’ he says.

Rick is now a researcher at La Trobe University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and has over thirty years experience in researching and working in the area of men’s health. He has worked closely with Veterans from the Second World War, as well as the wars in Korea and Vietnam over the years.  Here he shares his three best tips for helping veteran’s and their families

1.    Share knowledge

People can try educating themselves about the history of our most recent wars.

‘I encourage people looking for new ways to engage with veterans to read up and become familiar with the war and read the many personal stories that are written about the experiences of those who were involved in war. It can help increase understanding and open the lines of communication.’

2.    The importance of the ‘common ground’

Rick says there are good reasons why veterans should keep in touch with other people they served with and that shared experiences can make seem ‘ok’ to open up about their issues.

‘When I spoke about my disrupted sleeping patterns, other men would say they have nightmares as well.  Because they knew I was experiencing this myself they found it easier to speak with me about it.

‘Keeping problems bottled up can cause emotional breakdowns, so it is good to have an outlet and other people you can relate to,’ Rick says.

3.    Time to reconnect with family

Veteran’s often report feelings of anger and frustration. Rick says it is perfectly normal for family and friends to struggle with this change in personality and behaviour.

He says it can take time for the soldier to realise that he or she may need professional help.

‘Everyone reacts differently to trauma so it’s good to be subtle about it at first, because you don’t want to trigger a bigger problem,’ he says.

Local Return to Service Leagues (RSLs) and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs have great programs for families and soldiers.  

There are free group activities available for veterans and their families. Visit the Department of Veteran Affairs website for information about programs and help with issues like depression, anxiety and making the transition back to civilian life:

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Lisa Prowling

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