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Research shows that health and wellbeing needs in families intensify as veterans transition from full-time military service to civilian environments. Families with needs that span health and socioeconomic concerns can face challenges navigating the many services and programs offered by military and civilian systems of care.

In 2019, we launched the Families with a Veteran project. The project was a large collaborative initiative commissioned by RSL Queensland and Legacy Brisbane; delivered in partnership with Mates4Mates and Open Arms; and overseen by a Steering Committee that included representatives from the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA).

The project, led by one of our Principal Research Fellows, Dr Angela Maguire, was a year-long undertaking that focused on understanding health and wellbeing needs in veteran families, as well as experiences of service providers and families while navigating the veterans’ support system.

“The Australian health and social care system can be challenging to navigate if you’re a civilian,” Dr Maguire says. “Then you add the Defence, DVA, and ESO systems of care. Once families are engaged with a number of different agencies; coordinating care can get quite difficult.”

In December 2021, GMRF was called to give evidence to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide (Hearing Block 1 – Day 9). In her evidence to the Commission, Dr Maguire presented the findings from the project and highlighted the burden of care that some families are experiencing. She emphasised the value of working with families and service providers to co-design care coordination solutions which will benefit both families and support organisations.

In January 2022, the research from the project was published in BMC Health Services Research (an international peer-reviewed journal). The research emphasises the need for a military-informed, family-centred approach to support service delivery.

Dr Maguire says, “It was clear from the research that more work is needed to make sure that veteran families are gaining access to the right mix of services at the right time. There is a pressing need for high-quality implementation studies that evaluate initiatives for integrating fragmented systems of care.”

GMRF recommended that the organisations involved in the project use their close working relationships to maximise benefits for families with multi-agency needs. Rob Skoda (CEO, RSL Queensland) and Brendan Cox (CEO, Legacy Brisbane), are united in their view that veteran support services must be informed by evidence, and provided in a collaborative and cohesive manner, to have the greatest benefit for family health and wellbeing.

“GMRF’s newly published research confirms our collective thinking about the challenges that some families experience when navigating veterans’ support services. We were aware of the problem; now we have specific targets for improvement activities,” says Rob Skoda (CEO, RSL Queensland).

The findings from the Families with a Veteran project also informed the development of a five-year program of research (2021-2026) for the GMRF Military Families research stream.

Supported by RSL Queensland, and led by Dr Maguire, this research focuses on the relationship between military service experiences and family system functioning, and the processes that promote successful family adjustment and adaptation. As this research progresses, we look forward to sharing the findings.

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