Understanding complex needs critical to veteran futures

A pilot program to help military veterans embrace new futures has identified key obstacles to re-training and delivered valuable information to support returned or retired service people at a transitional time in their lives.

The Federal Government’s creation of a commissioner to investigate defence and veteran suicides highlights the complex challenges facing those who have completed service, and the broader impacts on their families and communities.

Led by Associate Professor Ben Wadham, Flinders University developed a one-of-a-kind program in Australia last year – the Military Academic Pathway Program (MAPP) – which incorporates international best practice in veterans’ academic pathways.

A military veteran himself, Associate Professor Wadham says: “Our aim was to establish a veteran entry pathway that minimised the red tape people experience when leaving the Australian Defence Force and considering university as an option.”

The Flinders University MAPP program, launched on Remembrance Day 2019, attracted 27 participants with 19 completing the course and 14 subsequently applying for university in engineering, paramedics, international relations and psychology fields.

“We found the program helped them feel confident and prepared for university study,” Associate Professor Wadham says.

“Among the most valued content was academic writing sessions and exposure to a variety of disciplines; challenges included work-related interruptions, such as being called in unexpectedly.”

Associate Professor Ben Wadham, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work Vice President and Executive Dean Professor Mike Kyrios and Flinders University alumna Air Vice-Marshal Dr Tracey Smart AO at the MAPP review day at Flinders.

Key stakeholders in the project discussed the successful program at a symposium, including details on the new Australian Student Veterans Association established at Flinders University.

The Higher Education Pathways for Younger Veterans Symposium also explored the broader transitioning issues and the wellbeing of military, veterans and their families. Representatives of military, university and other government agencies attended, including Flinders alumna Air Vice-Marshal Dr Tracey Smart, Surgeon General of the Australian Defence Force.

“Separation from the military is a challenging time for veterans and Flinders University is leading the way nationally in opening up study opportunities,” says Associate Professor Wadham.

“When someone leaves the military, they are seeking new opportunities and new direction. They acquire significant skills during their service, many of which are transferable, but do not know all the opportunities out there.”

Significantly, almost half of participants in the pilot program were younger veterans who had served in arms corps and had minimal exposure to military study entitlements due to their junior ranking.

“We know there are key challenges younger veterans face if they want to study at university. There needs to be recognition of service skills and their value to university studies, bridging opportunities, and awareness of what pathways are available.

“I took this path after my own time in the defence force and negotiated a way to higher education, but it was not without its challenges,” Associate Professor Wadham says.

This project was funded by a Department of Veterans Affairs Supporting Younger Veterans (SYV) grant.

Flinders presenters and attendees at the symposium included (L to R): Associate Professor Ben Wadham, Aidan Cornelius-Bell, Piper Bell, Ella Moeck, Cassie Cushing, Associate Professor Melanie Takarangi, Dr Andrew Paterson and Chris Turner
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