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Jun 13

SPEECH AT THE LAUNCH OF THE TRANSITION AND WELLBEING RESEARCH PROGRAMME, UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE

Wednesday, 11 June 2014 MINVA038

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SPEECH AT THE LAUNCH OF THE TRANSITION AND WELLBEING RESEARCH PROGRAMME, UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE

[Greetings omitted]

I am pleased to be here today at the University of Adelaide to launch a significant new programme of research: the Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme.

Tackling the mental health challenges facing veterans and their families is a key pillar of the Government’s plan for veterans’ affairs.

As Minister, I take this commitment very seriously and, over the last nine months, have set about to ensure that the Government delivers improvements to mental health services to veterans and their families.

My priority is to ensure that we have in place the mental health services and supports that are needed – ones that are demand driven.

With the increased operational deployment of the Australian Defence Force over more than a decade, and the drawdown of Defence Force operations in Afghanistan more recently, we need to understand the physical, mental and social health needs of both serving and ex-serving personnel.

This Government is determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. This means we need to develop a strong understanding of the issues and challenges faced by veteran and defence communities including their families, and to have a robust evidence base to inform our efforts to reduce stigma around mental illness and to keep improving our services.

It is clear to me that early intervention is critical, coupled with a seamless transition for ADF members to civilian life.

The Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme is part of a new strategic model for veteran research which aims to generate best practice research into the health and wellbeing needs of Australia’s veterans in order to further enhance services and care.

STRATEGIC RESEARCH MODEL FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS

My Department has introduced this new strategic model which will support the Government to respond effectively to emerging issues facing the veteran and ex-service community.

The model is comprehensive and supports focused evidence-based research in four areas:

Longitudinal studies – which look at health outcomes in veteran populations over time;

Predictive modelling – which tracks current and future trends in the veteran community;

Families – which look at health and wellbeing of families of veterans; and,

Interventions – which assess the effectiveness of health related programs and services designed to assist veterans in their daily life

This strategic approach has enabled my Department to successfully implement a more proactive and collaborative approach with the Department of Defence that will help us to collectively meet the research needs of ADF members.

Under this new strategic model, my Department will have the opportunity to invest more of its research funding in partnership arrangements which respond effectively to emerging issues.

The Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme will build on the research undertaken by the Department of Defence as part of the Military Health Outcomes Programme. Individuals who participated in the original studies will again be asked to participate in this new Programme.

The Military Health Outcomes programme was groundbreaking in profiling the impact of one’s service on their mental health. It found that currently serving Defence personnel have the same levels of mental health issues as the community but the types of disorders experienced are different.

It also showed that for currently serving personnel the mental health issues resulting from military service reflects the hazards of service in both deployed and non-deployed settings. It provided important insights in relation to stigma and barriers to care, while demonstrating a high level of mental health literacy in serving personnel.

The results of the Military Health Outcomes Programme were fundamental in the developing the Mental Health Strategies of both the Department of Defence and of my Department, and the subsequent development of policy, programmes and services.

This demonstrates to me some practical outcomes that can be developed from this important research. This new programme will build on and extend what we have learnt from previous research.

My Department remains actively engaged in a shared research agenda with the Department of Defence and is exploring research collaboration opportunities with other agencies such as the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

THE TRANSITION AND WELLBEING RESEARCH PROGRAMME

The Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme is the largest and most comprehensive programme of study undertaken in Australia to examine the impact of military service on the mental, physical and social health of serving and ex-serving personnel and their families who have deployed to contemporary conflicts. This research programme is a collaborative effort with the Department of Defence.

For the first time, it will include a picture of mental health disorders in the initial years after transition from full time service. It will also investigate how individuals previously diagnosed with a mental health disorder access care, how mental health issues change over time, the mental health status of reservists, as well as examining the experiences and needs of families of serving and ex-serving personnel.

The Programme is a significant investment of almost $5m over 3 years.

This Programme is unprecedented, representing a significant investment in understanding the mental, physical and social health needs of contemporary veterans and their families.

The Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme will deliver three major studies.

The first study, the Mental Health and Wellbeing Transition Study, will target both serving and ex-serving personnel to determine their mental, physical and social health status.

Specifically this study will:

determine the prevalence of mental health disorders amongst personnel who have transitioned from full-time service between 2010 and 2014;

examine the physical health status of serving and ex-serving personnel;

investigate pathways to care for serving and ex-serving personnel, with a priority on those with a diagnosed mental disorder;

examine the factors that contribute to the current wellbeing of ex-serving and ADF members;

investigate how mental health issues change over time, especially once an individual transitions from full time service;

investigate technology and its utility for health and mental health programmes, including implications for future health service delivery; and

investigate the mental health and wellbeing of currently serving Reservists.

The second study, the Impact of Combat Study, will comprehensively follow-up the mental, physical and neuro-cognitive health of personnel who deployed to the Middle East Area of Operations between 2010 and 2012.

This study will include individuals previously identified as being engaged in high risk roles and likely to be exposed to deployment related trauma or blast injury.

The third study, the Family and Wellbeing Study being conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, will investigate the impact of military service on the health and wellbeing of the families of serving and ex-serving personnel.

By understanding the impact of military service, deployment experiences and the associated health outcomes of serving and ex-serving personnel and their families, more effective policy and programmes can be developed that will help health providers to better meet the needs of contemporary veterans.

These studies will all provide the opportunity to close the gap in the research evidence around understanding the needs of personnel who have transitioned from Defence and their families.

THE RESEARCH TEAM

In late March, my Department contracted the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies at the University of Adelaide to lead the Transition and Well Being Research Programme. The lead investigator is Dr Miranda Van Hooff who was one of the lead authors on the previous Defence programme of research.

Dr Van Hooff will lead a team of researchers to complete both the Mental Health and Wellbeing Transition Study and the Impact of Combat Study within the research programme.

These national experts on veteran mental, physical and social health come from these leading research institutions:

University of Melbourne;

University of New South Wales;

Monash University;

Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre; and

Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies will take the lead on the Family and Wellbeing Study. The Transition Research Programme will provide the evidence base and set the foundation for

enhancing the policy and programmes that will support the mental, physical and social health of

our veterans into the future.

This will however, be only possible with the support of the men and women how have served and their families, as they need to tell us about their experience and what support they need. I therefore encourage every member of the veteran and defence community, family member, commander and ex-service organisation to get behind this research programme.

CONCLUSION

A strong, vibrant and resilient community is an integral component of our Australian landscape. History has shown that as a society, we support our mates through hard times. We succeed when everyone works together.

As mentioned earlier, this Programme represents a $5 million investment in understanding and improving the mental health of our veterans.

It will provide the road map for the development of our services and programs for years to come and make a real and substantive difference to the lives of our veterans and their families.

While there is always more than can be done, I am very proud of the efforts of my Department and the Department of Defence in their efforts to strive for excellence in this area.

I wish all of you every success with this critical research and it is now with great pleasure that I formally launch the Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme.