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Catholic chaplain questions effectiveness of government program aimed at giving military veterans jobs

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Military transition: “If anything is needed it is better transitional arrangements to train and prepare to re-engage in civilian life.” Photo: Defence Images.

THE effectiveness of a new government program pitched at encouraging businesses to employ former defence force personnel has been questioned by a Catholic chaplain.

Last month, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched the Veterans’ Employment Initiative, which would automatically give military veterans a job interview, if they have the right skills, training and experience.

However, Catholic chaplain to the ex-services community in Brisbane Deacon Gary Stone has questioned whether the new program would really hit the mark.

About 5500 men and women leave the military ranks each year but of that number 1000 personnel are medically discharged and are considered “vulnerable”.

“If anything is needed it is better transitional arrangements to train and prepare to re-engage in civilian life,” Deacon Stone said.

So far, 15 of Australia’s biggest employers have signed up for the program.

Under the plan, businesses would be encouraged to partner with ex-service organisations to develop strategies for boosting veteran employment.

The Government would assist the transition from defence to the civilian workforce by ensuring personnel have all the documentation they need, including health, superannuation and training records.

As they leave the military, defence personnel would also have access to employment coaching services to help them seek and obtain employment.

Veteran employment

Jobs program: Veterans need preparation to engage in civil society after return from service. Photo: Defence Images.

Soldier On is one of the veteran organisations that are backing the Government’s new employment program as a first step.

Soldier On co-founder and chief executive officer John Bale said it was essential to help veterans and their families return to civilian life.

“We cannot, like we have done so in the past, just forget about them the day they take off their uniform and leave the defence force,” he said.

“These people want a ‘hand-up’ and not a ‘handout’.”

However, Deacon Stone said amongst the veteran community he worked with in the Archdiocese of Brisbane, most veterans were struggling to adapt to civilian life, let alone hold down a job.

He said mental health effects of military service, including post-traumatic stress disorder, usually did not manifest until after ADF personnel had left.

About a quarter of all Australian veterans live in south-east Queensland, which includes the Brisbane archdiocese.

“We spend a lot of time training people to be a soldier and they develop a range of knowledge skills and attitudes, but on leaving the Defence Force they need a much more comprehensive preparation for being able to engage in civil society,” Deacon Stone said. “Engagement back into civilian society is a very big challenge for veterans, and it is not just a case of getting a job, it is also developing the adaptability to manage any health conditions that they’ve got as a result of military service, manage and balance family life and the civilian work environment.”

Deacon Stone engages with thousands of ex-servicemen and women through the Veterans Care Association, to provide spiritual-based pastoral care as well as education in holistic health.

A Senate inquiry is examining the rate of suicide among veterans and the adequacy of military compensation schemes.

It is understood almost 50 Australian veterans have died by suicide in 2016.

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