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VSA 2019 year in review

What a huge year it’s been!

Since VSA was officially launched in October 2018 following the Invictus Games Sydney, we’ve hardly had the chance to take a breath. From shooting arrows to kicking goals, there’s no doubt that the veteran community is getting active like never before.

Here’s a quick look back at some of the key moments of 2019.

Getting active through sport and recreation

VSA works with the Australian sport system to connect veterans with opportunities to get active and to join great local communities, improving mental and physical wellbeing.

“The sporting bodies we have worked with so far have been amazing in their support. We’re anticipating many more coming on board in 2020.”

We continue to work with national sporting organisations and their club networks to develop and realise the potential of this system to support veterans and their families. The sporting bodies we have worked with so far have been amazing in their support. We’re anticipating many more coming on board in 2020.

Here are a few examples of the great partnerships we’ve forged.

Archery Australia is rolling out a national veterans’ program across the country as we speak. It launched in October with a fantastic Open Day in Canberra. It was big news, with ABC Breakfast, Weekend Today and Sky News all covering the event. Veterans and their families from around the ACT got to have a crack at shooting arrows. Now we’re looking forward to seeing the program expand across the country, with Perth up next in January 2020.

Our partnership with the NRL, who deliver ‘Battlefields to Footy Fields’, is also celebrating its first birthday. With former NRL referee Steve Clark and his team providing coaching and mentoring, more than 150 veterans have put up their hands to get involved, with 32 veterans already accredited and in the refereeing system. We can’t wait to see the program go from strength to strength in 2020.

During DVA’s Veterans’ Health Week, veterans from around the country went along to their local parkrun. We saw the passion of the veteran community, with photos flooding Facebook. We even had Federal MP and veteran Phillip Thompson get involved along with the NSW Minister for Veterans Affairs, Geoff Lee. We established our own ‘Veteran Sport Australia’ parkrun Running Club and lots of veterans, families and supporters have already signed up. With more than 360 free parkruns across Australia, it’s one of the easiest ways for veterans and their families to get active.

Rugby 1st established a national initiative for veterans and their families to get involved with local rugby unions clubs with the endorsement of General Sir Peter Cosgrove. Rugby 1st believes that veterans make great rugby players and even better club people. They’re looking to get as many people involved as possible in all facets of club-life, starting with a pilot program being run out of Gordon Rugby Club in Sydney.

In between all of this activity, we’ve also seen:

  • veterans competing at the Australian Indoor Rowing Championships (with an online VSA team that veterans can join),
  • a Surf Life Saving Bronze Medallion course that’s run by and for veterans at North Bondi, and a Veteran Sport Australia team that will compete at the Surf Lifesaving World Championships next year in Riccione in Italy ,
  • opportunities for gamers to compete in esports and for RSL Clubs to facilitate this new sport,
  • and support for an ADF drone racing team.

In the community

We work with veterans in local communities to support participation at a grassroots level.

Our work with veterans and their families in local communities is something that we’re proud of. Throughout 2019, RAAF veteran and VSA Veteran Engagement Specialist, Rachel Kerrigan, has taken the Hunter region of New South Wales by storm, fostering an amazing community of veterans getting involved in sport at a local level. In support of these veterans, Rachel has united the local community of organisations along the way.

You can’t have missed VSA’s presence in the Hunter. To give you an idea of our reach, Rachel and her community have connected with more than 18 sport and recreation organisations, eight ex-service organisations and seven local veterans groups.

As a snapshot, some of the great opportunities in the region include:

  • 11 veterans and family members recently finished an 8-week ‘learn to surf’ wellbeing course on Nobbys Beach. Run by Waves of Wellness’ team of mental health professionals, the course was a big hit, with participants now encouraged to join the local chapter of the Association of Veteran Surfers.
  • Through VSA’s partnership with BMX Australia, a family day was held at Maitland BMX Club, with more than 50 families including 100 kids coming along. The success of the day prompted the Sydney BMX Club to get in on the act, with BMX clubs from around the country hopefully gearing up to follow.
  • Not to be left out, gyms in the Hunter have put on some amazing opportunities for local veterans in 2019. The Hunter Strength and Performance gym has been running free weekly lifting sessions for a ‘Veteran Strength Training Group’, which is open for all to join, and All Sorts Fitness in Wyong is offering discounted membership.

Adaptive Sport Program

VSA works with the Australian Defence Force to deliver the Adaptive Sport Program (ASP) providing opportunities to participate in competitive multi-sport events.

Team Australia… hard at work by the pool!

“20 out of 21 team members came back saying that the Warrior Games were ‘very beneficial’ for their health and wellbeing – the ultimate sign of success.”

The ASP was established for wounded, injured and ill veterans, with camps throughout the year building towards events like the Invictus Games, Warrior Games and Canadian Winter Sports Camp. There were eight major activities in 2019 alone.

VSA takes responsibility for all former serving competitors, who make up over two thirds of the program. This includes support with the expenses of travel, accommodation, uniforming and facility hire.

Led by our VSA Teams & Events Advisory Group, including Steph Hodson from Open Arms, and with the support of representatives from veteran organisations like RSL Active Victoria and The Road Home, we’ve been working hard to make sure that our veterans teams are ready to compete and their focus is on recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration

We’ve also been driven to ensure that those veterans that miss out on joining the ASP, or being part of Australian teams, still have opportunities to get involved in vibrant local sporting communities.

In July, our Australian team did us proud at the Warrior Games in Tampa, Florida. Our team of 23 represented us with distinction and had a great time along the way. 20 out of 21 team members came back saying that the Games were ‘very beneficial’ for their health and wellbeing – the ultimate sign of success. Along the journey, stories like Narelle’s, Kerrie’s and Brigid’s inspired us, showing what can be achieved and obstacles that can be overcome.

Selections for the Invictus Games in The Hague in 2020 are now being finalised and we can’t wait to introduce the team to you in 2020. Follow our Facebook page for the announcement in February.

In support

VSA plays a leading role in promoting the need for the Australian community to support veterans and their families through sport and recreation.

“More than 90% of financial assistance recipients said that the assistance had a positive impact on their health and wellbeing, with 50% saying that it had a ‘significant positive impact’ – a great outcome.”

We’ve also been helping out individual veterans with financial assistance to break down barriers to getting active.

We’ve been fortunate and privileged to be able to set up a Research and Advisory Committee to help us support veterans. The committee of academics from UNSW, the University of Sydney, the University of Adelaide, The Road Home, Phoenix Australia and Open Arms have generously volunteered their time to support VSA. The committee will help shape the direction of VSA programs, help measure the benefits of sport and recreation, and identify future opportunities.

We struck a chord with Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL, where together we led a community forum to figure out how to better connect with veterans in the area. Organisations that came together included sporting clubs, schools and local government. Coming out of the forum, a smaller working group was formed and has already met to turn the groups’ ideas into actions, connecting local veterans and their families with local sporting opportunities.

Our financial assistance program has supported over 85 veterans throughout 2019 to get active. Robbie Bishop is a 20-year veteran with the Australian Army from rural Queensland and lives with PTSD. Her horse Jacka has been a lifeline. With the assistance of VSA, Robbie was able to get into barrel racing (an event where horse and rider need to navigate three barrels set up in a cloverleaf pattern) which has been hugely beneficial for her wellbeing. In fact, more than 90% of financial assistance recipients said that the assistance had a positive impact on their health and wellbeing, with 50% saying that it had a ‘significant positive impact’ – a great outcome.

As well as all this, we’ve taken part in webinars, presented at seminars, joined in the work of veteran alliances and presented opportunities to veterans at DCO Transition Days.

2020 here we come!

We wish to extend our sincere thanks to all our volunteers, supporters, advisors and network of organisations for all the work they’ve done for us this year. We couldn’t have done it without you!

With heaps planned already, we’re looking forward to an even bigger 2020. Together, we’re going to make sure that veterans and their families in every part of Australia have the opportunity to get involved in sport and join great local communities along the way.

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Lead photo credit: Warwick Eady