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Identifying the strengths and gaps of military and veteran supports

By Laura Woodford

How can we meet the unique needs of military personnel who are serving or have served for our country and their families?

What are the strengths and gaps in current supports? How can we best look at a more holistic, cross-disciplinary response? These are some of the questions Dr. Gail Wideman, associate professor at Memorial’s School of Social Work, hopes to answer.

From left are Heather Allison and Dr. Gail Wideman.
From left are Heather Allison and Dr. Gail Wideman.
Photo: Casey Wall

Leadership Circle

As an educator, researcher and military Mom, Dr. Wideman saw an opportunity for a crucial community capacity building initiative to help answer some of them.

Dr. Wideman recently convened a full-day Atlantic Regional Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle meeting on the St. John’s campus. This initiative brought together national and local civilian and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) providers of health and social services, researchers, and CAF families.

Military personnel discuss gaps and strengths during the Leadership Circle meeting.
Military personnel discuss gaps and strengths during the Leadership Circle meeting.
Photo: Chris Hammond

Plan and a goal

Her plan: Bring people from a wide range of perspectives and experiences together to explore existing strengths and resources. Her goal: Work towards collaborative practice and research initiatives to mitigate the gaps and challenges and explore initiatives that meet the complex and unique needs of military personnel, veterans and their families.

Attendees included Veterans Affairs Canada, Operational Stress Injury Social Support, N.S. and N.L.; Canadian Armed Forces, St. John’s, lieutentant-commander; Integrated Personnel Support Centre, Halifax, N.S., admin. sergeant; Joint Personnel Support Unit, St. John’s and Gander; Military Family Resource Centre, St. John’s and Happy Valley-Goose Bay; Military Senior Medical Authority, N.L., physician and nurse case manager; Government of Newfoundland and Labrador; Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine, School of Business, School of Social Work, Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research, and Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research; Mount St. Vincent University, Family Studies; ARRIVA: Traumatic Stress Services, N.L.; Strongest Families Institute, N.S.; Private Practice Mental Health, St. John’s; Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis, Ont., defence scientist; Caribou Memorial Veteran’s Pavilion, St. John’s; and active and retired military and their families.

Takeaway messages

Some of the key points that came out of the meeting were whether you are a service provider or service user, you are not alone in your dedication to this issue.

Members of the Atlantic Regional Military and Veteran Families meet in a Leadership Circle.
Members of the Atlantic Regional Military and Veteran Families meet in a Leadership Circle.
Photo: Chris Hammond

As well, it was emphasized that our community is resource rich in many areas when it comes to support for military and veteran families, but at the same time, it was recognized that gaps exist at all levels: community, military, research, government. Some of these gaps will require focused research questions and analysis, but, along with quantitative evidence, research must include stories from those on the front lines, including military families and veterans.

A last point was that gaps relate to the dissemination and uptake of this knowledge — a critical role for those engaged in knowledge translation, policy development and service delivery.

Group members expressed their commitment to maintain the momentum of this crucial conversation; a summary report is being prepared from the meeting notes.

“Tangible outcome”

Dr. Wideman said it was “very promising” to hear from Nora Spinks of the Vanier Institute of the Family about the possibilities she envisions for wide national circulation of this information.

From left are Col. Dan Harris, Heather Allison, Nora Spinks and Dr. Heidi Cramm.
From left are Col. Dan Harris, Heather Allison, Nora Spinks and Dr. Heidi Cramm.
Photo: Chris Hammond

“This will be the ‘tangible outcome,’” said Dr. Wideman.

“However, I have learned that when stakeholders come together in this way, there are ripple effects. These are immeasurable outcomes, not necessarily visibly linked to our efforts, but that nevertheless have important impacts. I believe that we all came away from the meeting with a new or revitalized commitment to support military and veteran families.”

“The Atlantic Regional Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle meeting at Memorial has given me back some hope and has lifted the burden of helplessness.” — Heather Allison

The meeting was encouraging, according to Heather Allison, a self-proclaimed, proud mother of a young Canadian veteran.

“I had given up on this country and its citizens,” said Ms. Allison.

“The indifference shown towards our young veterans, military members and their families left me with a deep sense of frustration and helplessness. The Atlantic Regional Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle meeting at Memorial has given me back some hope and has lifted the burden of helplessness. I would like to thank all who attended.”

Collaborative effort

Dr. Wideman is pleased with the outcome and optimistic about future possibilities.

“I want to recognize Memorial University’s Conference Fund and Office of Public Engagement for their financial support of this meeting,” said Dr. Wideman. “And also Col. Dan Harris, director of Military Family Services, Canadian Armed Forces Morale and Welfare Services; Dr. Heidi Cramm, interim co-scientific director, Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research; and Nora Spinks, CEO, Vanier Institute of the Family, for speaking, and for their support of this gathering. The success of our first Atlantic Regional Military and Veterans Families Leadership Circle meeting serves as a particularly fitting contribution to Memorial’s WW100 Commemoration Program.”


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