Across the community volunteers provide vital support to people in a myriad of ways, and it’s no different within the veteran community. Veteran organisations often rely on volunteers to support their mission, with their work often supporting the wellbeing of veterans and their families either directly or indirectly.
Phoenix Australia has collaborated with the Veterans Centre Sydney Northern Beaches (VCSNB) to develop a best practice framework for volunteering in support of veterans and veterans’ families’ wellbeing. For the purposes of this project, the definition of a Veteran provided by the Minister of Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs is a person who is serving or has served in the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
The VCSNB received a Supporting Younger Veterans grant from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to develop their veterans’ wellbeing program led by volunteers with a lived experience of military service and mental illness. The program aims to facilitate early engagement with professional support services for both current and former serving ADF members and their families who may need assistance with their mental health. The program has included collaborations with other veteran-centric organisations in Sydney, Coffs Harbour, Wagga Wagga, and Albury/Wodonga.
The VCSNB understands that volunteers who are informed, prepared and well supported to provide wellbeing support are better able to assist the veteran community. The VCSNB therefore engaged Phoenix Australia to develop a framework that will guide veteran organisations in how to protect, support and promote their volunteers to assist the wellbeing of veterans and their families.
Ben Webb, Centre Manager at VCSNB, said that, “We know that volunteers sometimes provide support to veterans with chronic mental illness, and that the effects of this work can be challenging and debilitating.
“Volunteers don’t necessarily have the skills to know how to deal with mental health problems, or how to protect themselves from the stresses of their role. We knew that to look after our volunteers, and help them to provide the best assistance to veterans and families, we needed guidance on how to support them.”
Cath Allen, the VCSNB project lead, has worked tirelessly over the past 11 months to develop and deliver training to veterans and their families, and to establish localised veteran wellbeing networks that connect veteran-centric support services as well as community-based support services to ensure more effective referral pathways. The success of this work underpinned the collaboration with Phoenix Australia in building the framework.
The framework that has been developed offers a flexible approach to engaging volunteers that will be effective for any veteran organisation. It encourages both the organisation and the volunteer to share responsibility for protecting, supporting and promoting volunteer involvement.
Some of the key principles that the framework outlines for both the volunteer organisation and the veteran include: integrating the volunteer program into the organisation’s policies, systems, training and programs; consideration of the full lifecycle of the volunteer role, from recruitment through to transition out of the role; ensuring support provided to veterans and families is trauma-informed and recovery-oriented; and the importance of volunteers understanding their role, military culture, mental health issues, and how to look after their own wellbeing.
Kristi Heffernan, Senior Clinical Specialist at Phoenix Australia, said that, “The volunteering framework that we have developed with the VCSNB recognises the important role that volunteers play in supporting the wellbeing of veterans and their family members, and encourages them to seek care for mental health issues. It is really important that volunteers are well supported. The framework provides practical and flexible guidance for all veteran organisations in Australia in supporting their volunteers, whilst encouraging collaboration and the sharing of resources amongst organisations in order to meet best practice requirements”.
The VCSNB is keen to continue to enhance and develop the role of volunteers in veteran organisations with further collaborations planned and a roll-out of the volunteering framework and the younger veterans’ wellbeing program to more regions and states.
“It has been a pleasure working with Phoenix Australia to deliver a project with an ambitious goal on a very tight timeline. This team’s professionalism, flexibility and connection with the project’s purpose has delivered a result beyond expectations, and we hope to have the opportunity to collaborate again in the future.” – Ben Webb, Centre Manager at Veterans Centre Sydney Northern Beaches