Veterans centre that “shouldn’t need to exist” marks first year milestone
VCA CEO, Nikki Noakes
A year after opening its doors to the nation, a veterans’ centre that admits it shouldn’t need to exist continues to be inundated with clients.
Veterans Centre Australia (VCA), a not-for-profit charity providing professional support and advocacy services to current and former servicemen, servicewomen and their families, reports that demand for its services has increased by 120% in the last 12 months.
Since the release of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide interim report in August, client enquiries to the centre have risen by 10%. There is now a four to six week waiting list for VCA clients to access support services.
VCA CEO, Nikki Noakes, said despite increased government focus on Australian Defence Force (ADF) veterans’ welfare over the past five years, demand for transition support is showing no signs of slowing.
“The sad reality is that a service like ours should not have to exist. The government programs currently available to veterans are not always consistent and can be met with barriers for engagement.
“Around 30% of our clients come to us having an unsatisfactory experience elsewhere, as they struggle to navigate a complex Veterans’ Affairs system which usually exacerbates their stress levels.
“Military legislation is far too complicated, and no longer practical to support the changing and unique needs of veterans and their families.”
Ms Noakes believes VCA will need to increase its resources in coming years as it guides Australian veterans and their families towards wellbeing and resilience.
“At VCA, we recognise that everyone’s transition experience is different, shaped by a different set of circumstances, and an infinite combination of multifaceted needs. There is no one-size-fits-all model.
“Our team provides levels of support ranging from urgent high risk intervention at a tactical nature, through to deliberate on-base engagements and long term wellbeing and care assistance.
Nikki enlisted into the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) as a Maritime Logistics Officer in January 2008 after completing a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of New England.
She enjoyed a 10 year career in the RAN, serving on the HMAS Newcastle and Kanimbla; and was appointed Decommissioning Officer for HMAS Sydney IV and as a Logistics Liaison Officer in Hawaii.
In 2018, she voluntarily transitioned to the Naval Reserve Force after completing further studies in Business and Strategic People Management, then spending two years as the Group HR Manager for a civil construction company.
In 2020, Nikki returned to the ex-service community to support the Veterans Centre through COVID-19 and engage with local government and health organisations to connect veterans and families with professional support services.
Nikki grew up in a military family and understands the ex-service community and culture as both a veteran and dependent.
“We work really hard to connect veterans and their families with a range of support services and programs so that they are informed and resourced to better respond to their own individual health, social and physical needs, both during and post their ADF transition periods,” she said.
“Our programs are all about empowering veterans with the knowledge and connections that they need to go on to lead a fulfilling life.”
After servicing the Northern Beaches area of Sydney for a decade, VCA expanded to become national last year, due to growing demand.
VCA Board Chair, Ryan Carmichael, said although the veteran community had faced immense challenges over the past few years, this had generated a fresh spotlight on the sector, with an increased focus on veterans’ wellbeing and employment initiatives.
“VCA has maintained a laser-like focus on supporting veterans and families to ensure we can achieve positive and sustainable outcomes for those who seek and need assistance," he said.
Naval officer Catherine Harvey, who has been in the service for 28 years and is still serving, was diagnosed with PTSD following two tours of Afghanistan.
Catherine said having VCA handle all the paperwork around her PTSD claim took all the stress away.
“Just trying to work out the system and make a claim was seriously messing with my mental health. I handed over my medical records, I was assigned an advocate, then they took over and told me what I was able to claim. Their business model is just fantastic,” she said.
“To have someone else manage this process for me just completely lifted the load, in every respect.”
Veterans Centre Australia is a not-for-profit charity that provides professional support and advocacy services to current and former servicemen, servicewomen and their families.
Wellbeing is VCA’s core focus and it supports its clients in three ways:
- through care coordination - offering a pathway to access civilian support services;
- military legislation advocacy support - ensuring veterans receive the right entitlements from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs;
- training and education - providing mental health first aid and suicide prevention training to volunteers working within the ex-service community.
Originally established in 2012 for veterans in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, more than half of VCA’s clients now live outside this area, and are spread throughout Australia.
VCA now proudly supports 526 clients across Australia and is looking to further develop the centre in line with government initiatives.
Find out more at: www.veteranscentre.org.au
September 2021 Profile of the Week: Veterans Centre Australia
Phone: 0409 154 074
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