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An innovative national program

While we navigate our way through the COVID-19 pandemic as a community, there’s no doubt that many Australians are going through a very difficult time.

Mental health service Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling has been playing a vital role throughout this crisis, helping veterans and their families with counselling and other support services, and crucially maintaining their free phone support lines 24/7.

Open Arms is always innovating and has recently established a new national service to provide a further level of assistance for clients. Their national team of Community and Peer Advisors are already making a difference on the ground and will no doubt have big role to play as we slowly come out of community lockdown.

Photo credit: Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling

Difficult times

The results of a YouGov survey that were released earlier this month laid out many of the harmful impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak, finding that Australians are now feeling more stressed and isolated.

The results of the survey showed that 77 per cent of survey respondents were stressed about not seeing family, with 70 per cent of respondents reporting that they were drinking more than they usually would. At Veteran Sport Australia, we’re also very conscious of the fact that it’s been more difficult to exercise and stay active, particularly with gyms – such an important space for many veterans – currently closed.

The alarming survey results only highlight the need to support high quality mental health services, just like Open Arms, as we deal with both the immediacy of the pandemic and its ongoing, lasting effects.

Leaning on experience

The Open Arms Community and Peer Program engages Advisors who all have lived experience and personal backgrounds as former serving members of the ADF or as family members.

Community and Peer Advisors draw on their own experiences when working with clients on the ground. They work alongside veterans, family support, community agencies and mental health clinicians, and engage with all parts of the local community. They also provide outreach, support and help with case management.

Photo credit: Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling

National reach

This innovative Program continues to go from strength to strength and was scaled nationally after a hugely successful two-year pilot program in Townsville. An extensive evaluation found that the pilot overwhelmingly met its objectives and that Advisors played an important, and complementary, role in providing support to clients, particularly those at risk and with complex situations. Clinicians and local service providers are also benefitting from the peers as they help educate them about the military culture and experience.

There are now 39 Community and Peer Advisors operating across 13 different regions around the country, with a presence in every state.

Andrew Dyer is a National Peer and Community Advisor and was one of two Advisors that led the 2017 pilot in Townsville. “A key part of our role is to know all of the resources and support systems that are out there and to connect our clients to those services when they need them,” says Andrew. “It means that a veteran can walk in any door and, because the system is linked together, be supported.”

Peer Advisors work closely with Open Arms clinicians, providing another layer of assistance for clients to ensure that they always have the right support available to them.

Michael Hartung, General Manager of Veteran Sport Australia, is excited by the Program’s growth and possibilities. “The Open Arms Community and Peer Program is already making a difference in the lives of veterans during these unprecedented times, and it’s fantastic this is now available nationally,” says Michael. “Veteran Sport Australia’s role is to assist veterans and their families to utilise sport for the same outcome. There are many parallels in our work and why we are such big fans of what they do.”

To learn more about how the Community and Peer Program can help you, call Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

Photo credit: Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling


Open Arms is open 24/7 if you need someone to talk to. Visit the Open Arms website for more information and check out their COVID-19 page if you’re after some helpful hints for staying calm and coping with the pandemic.