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SUBMISSION TO THE ROYAL COMMISSION INTO DEFENCE AND VETERAN SUICIDE

Preamble

  1. The Trojan’s Trek Foundation has been invited to comment in accord with the TOR subject listing. The list is comprehensive and includes several topics or areas in which the Foundation has very little experience recorded, and therefore no comments are offered.  However, those areas which, through the delivery of the intervention programs over 13 years in SA and QLD have provided a wealth of hands-on experience, the Foundation submits comments in two of the listings as follows:
  2. Existing services. The availability, accessibility, timeliness, and quality of health, wellbeing, and support services (including mental health support services) to the defence member or veteran, and the effectiveness of such services; and
  3. Role of NGO. The role of non-government organisations, including ex-service organisations, in providing relevant services and support for defence members, veterans, their families and others.

Background

  1. Trojan’s Trek Foundation (www.trojanstrek.com) commenced operations in SA in 2009 and was incorporated in 2013 in response to an identified shortfall in effective hands-on support to veterans suffering from stress illness.  The program expanded into QLD in 2015.  It is a recognised not-for-profit charity, has gift deductible status and is run by a board of six directors. The program was established to assist younger military veterans and first responders suffering from stress illness by taking part in treks. Although first responders have always attended, they were added as a target group was a result of the recent fires and other disasters over the 2019-2020 period which saw many first responders many of whom were ex-military, deeply impacted.  The experience termed a circuit breaker, provides a valuable adjunct to clinical and other alternates over a six-day, remote live-in program.
  2. The program was independently evaluated by ACPMH (now Phoenix) and UniSA in 2009, and in 2012 and 2013 by way of masters’ theses. The results were presented at the Australasian Military Medicine Conference (AMMA) in Adelaide in November 2014 and 2019.  The outcomes established new benchmarks for peer support.  This approach to stress illness is a valuable adjunct to other methods of treatment.  Several longitudinal studies looking at longer-term impacts on individuals have also been completed over time.  They have established that the positive impact of the experience was present after 12 months.  The Primary Health Network (PHN) a federally funded body, has also completed a 12-month evaluation which was completed in Oct 2019.  In 2020, the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation (GMRF) was commissioned by RSL Qld to write and publish a paper to determine the efficacy of the program. Having been peer-reviewed and published, it provides empirical, research-based evidence that the program is most effective.
  1. The results of these evaluations indicate that the Trojan’s Trek program promotes sustained improvements in depression, anxiety, stress, self-efficacy, and life satisfaction.  Each trek continues to be independently evaluated both qualitatively and quantitatively in QLD by GMRF and in SA by Flinders University Staff.  A simplified quantitative result before and after a 6-day trek is enclosed as an example.  It shows improvement in depression, anxiety, and stress, in 87% of participants with the others remaining at no change.  Other methods of gauging outcomes are being trialled.

Existing Services 

  1. Current Practice.  The mental health services which currently are devoted to well-being and support are based on the time-honoured practice of one-on-one counselling and pharmacology.   This is the gold standard, which is adopted in most developed western countries, of which Australia is one.  One of the contradictions in medical practice terms is that most one-on-one counselling rarely if ever, uses the term recovery.  And despite the occasional dropping of the letter D in PTSD, the practice has not changed, presumably based on the definition of the condition as a permanent “disorder”.  This often results in what our clients term the “revolving door syndrome”, which refers to the ongoing referrals experienced in the clinical approach.  This is generally non-productive and frustrating for individuals.
  2. Access to Services. One of the difficulties faced by individuals and GPs is the long waiting periods faced when attempting to access psychiatric services. In some cases, waiting periods of more than nine months are common.  Clearly, this is not acceptable, and these long stressful periods can result in triggers.

Trek Design 

  1. Because the staff of Trojan’s Trek has shared the same frustrations of our clients, they understand the difficulties faced by endless consultations with no endpoint in sight or referred to. To that end, the trek program which is delivered over a six-day live-in experience in the remote bush, includes a transition from victim to gentle warrior.  The trek, sometimes described as the start of a new journey in life, is the primary business of the Foundation. Women attend as a separate group, their preference.
  2. The treks are more cranial than physical and provide the setting and conditions under which participants will experience a lasting positive shift in personal values and interpersonal relationships designed to improve their lifestyle and community involvement. The thrust of the program, which is centred on 15 formal sessions, is improved condition self-management to result in a better more productive life.  It is designed to improve social interaction and contribute to a healthy lifestyle, resulting in better family and community members by equipping our clients with “tools” to assist in their recovery.
  3. Trojan’s trek is a circuit breaker; the Foundation does not have the resources nor intent to maintain contact which can be successfully carried out by existing organizations. Most individuals will benefit from some form of follow-up treatment on completion.  The differences between this program and conventional treatment may be summarized as follows:
  • It is culture-specific.
  • It encourages group identity and results in the formation of support groups.
  • It involves veteran to veteran, responder to responder delivery.
  • It utilizes the remoteness and isolation of the bush as part of a “live in” experience.
  • The program focus is on individuals transferring from “victim to gentle warrior”, and
  • The process includes partners understanding the illness.
  1. The impact of the trek on individuals can be gauged by reading the testimonials enclosed which are taken from daily journals completed during the treks. Longer term outcomes are referred to in paragraph 3 and all the studies completed confirm that the trek impact is present after periods of 12 months and more.

Cost-Benefit 

  1. Attendance at a trek is free ex Brisbane and Adelaide. The amortised cost of taking one individual on a trek is approximately $2,500.  Groups of 12 to 16, all of whom self-nominate, make up the normal participant group.  Depending on the level of financial assistance offered to supplement travel expenses, each trek costs approximately $35,000 to run.  A total of five treks per year are conducted in SA and QLD.
  2. These are significant costs for a small charity that receives very little Government support. However, when compared with patient costs for clinical care at approximately $1,500 per day, they pale into insignificance given the benefits.

Role of NGO

  1. Mental health is certainly impacting many more individuals than even 5 years ago and the suffers are now more prepared to seek assistance. Combined with COVID 19, the mental health support system is close to overwhelmed.   This has placed a strain on alternate support systems and some NGO have attempted to assist, some unsuccessfully.  However, there is a role for NGO to become involved in providing even simple MH first aid to supplement the system and this should be encouraged.
  2. Currently, it is understood that more than 3,000 organisation list that they provide support to the veteran community. The Foundation is aware of the work of some, but little independent evidence is available to indicate the value of the service provided.  RSL QLD appears to be the only organisation that has attempted to grade or measure the impact of various NGOs.
  3. NGO’s play a key role in supporting government-based services in three specific ways: additional resources, alternative approaches, and broader geographic availability. The sheer volume of Ex-Service Organisations (ESO’s), most of which are NGO’s, speak to the demand for additional and alternative resources.
  4. Many of our participants report having tried the numerous currently accepted therapies including, but not limited to, regular and long stints in mental health facilities at up to $1500/day, pharmacology, one-on-one counselling with a clinician, EMDR, ECT, etc. They will universally say that the experience provided by Trojan’s Trek is the best and most effective treatment they have had.
  5. The ability to utilise alternate therapies such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) as part of our approach has been a key to our success. While our clients are encouraged to listen and discuss, they take away from the experience what they consider useful for their recovery, nothing more.   Whilst some of these therapies are making their way into current clinical practice but they are still largely considered fringe, and not supported by clinicians.  Our most recent peer-reviewed and published results prove that the Trojan’s Trek programs are three times more effective than the ‘Gold Standard’ treatment of pharmacology and one-on-one counselling and are sustained after two months.
  6. Finally, the ability of NGOs to be nimble and responsive (without the bureaucratic restraints of a large organisation) means that organisations like Trojan’s trek are typically the first port of call for people who need an acute response. The fact that most government services are city-based also creates opportunities for regionally located NGOs to take up the cudgel. It is in these ways that NGOs provide a valuable adjunct to the current government-provided services.

Conclusion

19.   The workings of the brain and the impact which experiences have on behaviour, is an area about which new information is continually presented and investigated.

There is no doubt that traumatic exposures have an adverse impact on behaviour.  Almost all who suffer from stress illness exhibit unacceptable behaviour or periods of poor anger management.  This in turn results in failed relationships, which further enhance depression and anxiety. If behaviour can be changed to conform with what is termed “normal,” recovery by reversion to the norm can be commenced.

The way in which the individual decides or is persuaded to commence that journey is of no consequence as the program “does no harm.” That is to say, the decision to make positive change is up to the individual which results from the experience of the trek.  And if that attitudinal change is supported by simple tools and individuals who have experienced similar events and are supportive, there is a significant opportunity to implement positive gains to the benefit of the community, children, loved ones, friends, and those in other relationships.

Trojan’s Trek has achieved those outcomes over 13 years with more than 400 male and female clients benefitting from the intervention.

 

 

 

 

 

Moose Dunlop OAM

Operations Director

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TROJAN’S TREK SOUTH AUSTRALIA SEPTEMBER 2021

Introduction

  1. Trojan’s Trek in South Australia (SA) was conducted on Moolooloo Station in the North Flinders Ranges from 11 to 17 September 2021. This was the 13th year treks have been conducted in SA and the first time meeting with the station’s new owners. The remote location supports one of the key elements of the success of the program, a peaceful setting in an ancient land, free from electronic, mental, and physical distractions. This significantly increases the impact of the messages delivered. Treks are alcohol and recreational drug-free.
  2. The Trek was advertised to include first responders such as volunteer firefighters, ambulance officers, and police officers who have been exposed to traumatic situations in the line of their duties. It is the second time a trek targeting first responders has been conducted by the Foundation. This was a change in approach to the normal practice when first responders are taken more by exception. Fourteen males attended, of the total, six were ex-army, one RAAF, two police officers, and five firefighters. Over time it has been noted that many first responders have served in the military.

Aim

3. The aim of Trojan’s Trek is to provide a setting and conditions under which participants experience a lasting, and positive shift in personal values and interpersonal relationships.

Objectives
The objectives of the trek are to assist the participants through group and individual challenges, achieve the following:

a. an understanding of how thoughts and feelings influence behaviour,
b. exposure to various strategies which will bring about positive change,
c. individual responses which are effective in achieving goals,
d. improve interpersonal relationships, and
e. enhance self-esteem.

Validation

4. This trek again saw the use of the system of evaluation introduced in April as a pilot called Goal Attainment Setting (GAS). The concept involves trekkers setting their own goals and also setting enabling goals to achieve the outcomes they want from life. Goal setting is important for recovery because it can provide the individual with motivation, particularly when they are functional and directly relate to real-life activities. A meaningful goal can maximise patient engagement and motivate individuals to participate in rehabilitation to achieve their goals. From initial feedback it appears that goal setting is more useful to the trekkers than ticking boxes in four psychosocial instruments on three occasions to rate change, the method used previously.

Daily Journals

5. Trekkers are encouraged to complete daily journals which, with agreement, are copied and used to measure qualitative gains as well as gaining insight into what sessions are well or otherwise received. The comments are powerful and provide extremely good feed-back as well as a gauge of personal impact.

COVID 19

6. Fortunately, COVID 19 was a lesser problem during this trek than it was in 2020.  Social distancing and food handling were required to meet health advice standards, but these were not onerous.  

Program Delivery

7. The success of the trek is built on the credibility and impact of the sessions delivered by facilitators. During this trek four experienced facilitators were employed to deliver fourteen formal sessions. One of the facilitators and one participant were from QLD. Three mentors were also used to reinforce the messages.  When not engaged in delivery, the staff were utilised as mentors to the participants around the campfire and during 4WD vehicle movement.  This interaction of staff with small groups of participants assists in building trust and reinforcing messages. The total number attending including base staff was 26. A total of 14 nights’ accommodation was required before and following the trek to link with transport and other limitations. Keswick Barracks through the Chief of Staff, assisted with the provision of rooms.  This arrangement is most satisfactory, economical, and safe for vehicle parking.

8. All staff departed Adelaide for Moolooloo a day in advance of the participants. This provided additional opportunities for staff briefing and to consolidate content.  The total attending was 27 as follows:    

Location

9. The trek is supported from a base established at the shearers’ quarters on Moolooloo which is 36 km northeast of Parachilna on the Glass Gorge Road. The station occupies 1400 square kilometres of country which varies in type and relief from east to west. The distance to the area of the trek is 520 km from Adelaide. Travelling this distance is time-consuming and expensive in fuel, but the advantages in having no mobile telephone, television or radio reception more than offsets the disadvantages of travel. A trip of this duration also permits the participants to get to know each other en-route. The feedback from the participants on the travel and location is positive.

Access

10. On arrival it was discovered that the keys to the quarters were not located where we were informed, they would be.  This meant that access to the ablution block and other areas was denied.  After searching external areas without success, it was decided that we would have to gain access to the homestead to attempt to locate the keys.  This was gained by slipping a blade between the striker and the door frame and releasing a window latch.  Another search had just commenced as the new owners arrived.   We explained our problem to the owners, Reece and Tarina, who also did not know where the keys were. After further searches the keys were located in the linen cupboard, thus providing access.  Since that time, a complaint from the new owners was received via the foundation email.  This matter is being investigated and a report will be submitted by 11 October.

Medical Support

 11. The nearest fully equipped hospital was at Hawker, approximately 1.5 hours away. First-line medical support was provided by a medic based with the team.  First aid kits were also available and a number of the staff were qualified St John, Apply First Aid.  An AED added to the medical capability.  In terms of risk management, the longest exposure to the most serious risk was assessed as traffic accidents during the trip to and from Moolooloo.

12. On the last day of the trek one of the participants was suffering from inflamed sinuses, a condition with which he was familiar. After telephone advice from the Hawker hospital, he was transported there for treatment.  He returned to the bush that evening and his condition improved over the next 24 hours.

Equipment and Vehicles

 13. All equipment was satisfactory.  Seven vehicles were hired from Complete Ute and Van at a 50% discount and a 200 series Landcruiser and Hilux were loaned to the Foundation by Pioneer Tanks.  This represents a significant saving in hiring costs.  A self-drive hire bus driven by two volunteers transported the trekkers to Moolooloo Station on Sunday.  At the conclusion of the trek, staff and participants returned to Adelaide in the 4WD vehicles.

14. During the trek, the 4WD vehicles were used to travel between locations.  This is in alignment with the program logic which utilises the small group environment of the vehicles to prompt further discussions and reflections on issues as they surface following the sessions. This has been found to be so successful that staff refers to this practice as mobile consulting rooms.  It also affords the chance to mix different individuals and staff to maximize exposure to others’ views.  This has proved to be beneficial; many of the trekkers have remarked on the advantages of spending time in the company of a few individuals as opposed to a larger group. 

Weather

15. The weather was cold on two nights with the temperature dropping to below zero. Daytime temperatures were in the low to mid 20s which was optimal for trek delivery.  The North Flinders Ranges was experiencing a period following rain, but the creek beds were dry and the roads and tracks relatively stable.  Some creeks showed the effects of flooding earlier in the year which changed the landscape and creek lines in places.  4WD travel to one location was avoided because of difficult crossings.

Communications

  1.   Telephone. Mobile telephone coverage in the area is patchy or non-existent with the nearest service at Parachilna and Blinman.  On this trek, fixed line communications were not available at the shearers’ quarters despite earlier requests to Telstra and advice that the service had been reconnected.   Outside contact and messages could be facilitated by using the station homestead phone.
  2. Radio. While in the bush UHF hand-held and vehicle-mounted radios were used for communications on simplex.  This year four new handheld UHF radios donated by Supacat were used.  They proved to be excellent, with good battery life and range.  Duplex on Channel 3 was available in the area for contact at greater distances by UHF.

Program

  1.  The program is reviewed regularly to ensure relevant content.    The messages conveyed during the trek are related to relationships and understanding cognitive strategies for behavior management.  A selection of topics including How the Brain Works, Leaving a Legacy, Victim to Warrior and Communications were delivered.   The style and method of delivery, combined with the surroundings, make the messages much more powerful.   This is further enhanced by the group sharing personal experiences.
  1.   Daily journals also provide useful insight into the power of the program and how the content is being understood by participants. The simple benefit gained from reconnecting with other sufferers cannot be overstated.  This is in accordance with the philosophy of the trek which is based on shared first-hand experience.

20. Two new mentors were given the opportunity to continue to develop their skills assisted by experienced facilitators. This is essential for staff succession planning.

21. All facilitators are selected from past participants. These are normally individuals who found the trek messages so powerful they decided or were invited to take the opportunity to assist in program delivery. Those who have accepted this responsibility describe their continuing gains from attendance by assisting in the transformation of the lives of others.

22. The tenor of the week is relaxed yet highly focused on outcomes. This comes as a surprise to most of the participants whose expectations are for a course run along military lines. This is the antithesis of the program.

23. For this trek four first responders were used as facilitators and mentors. The inclusion of staff other than ex-military provides a balance and different experience sets which identified with the trekkers. Sessions linked to this expertise provides advice and encouragement in a form that is perceived differently to that presented by the veterans.

Journals

  1. The use of a period set aside daily to complete individual journals has proved to be an important element for participants. The journals are used to record personal reflections on the various lessons of the day and the daily experience of the trek. This practice provides an opportunity to review and anchor the day’s lessons.
  1. Past trekkers have commented on the usefulness of this record of reflections as a reminder of the strategies and tools to use after the trek. With consent, the journals are de-identified and used to provide qualitative data to supplement the quantitative psychometric evaluation of the program. Personal comment on the program content and processes are also gathered.  These are subtended as an enclosure.

Partners

  1. A Partner’s Handbook was posted to each partner prior to the trek. It is designed to deliver three key outcomes;
  1. provide information regarding the trek and its intent,
  2. provide the partners with some of the ideas and tools that the trekkers will be exposed to, and
  3. encourage support for what may be new ideas, and behaviours.
  1. Although the handbooks were posted on the Thursday before deployment, some of the books did not arrive until the trekkers were back home. This is a disappointing performance from Australia Post. 

Staff Debrief

  1. A staff debrief was conducted at the conclusion of the trek to capture immediate feedback and comment. Individual feedback was provided to the staff. The comments will be reviewed by the Operations Director.

Program Viability

  1. The Trojan’s Trek program is demand-driven; that is, individuals approach the point of contact indicating a desire to attend. This has worked well in SA where male numbers remain reasonably high but military nominations are diminishing. However, with the experience of this and the April trek, the inclusion of first responders added to the pool of experiences of the participants was beneficial. The inclusion of first responders is beneficial and does not detract from the outcomes. In any case, to ensure that the program remains viable and continues to provide support to veterans it is necessary to:
  1. continue to advertise the program, targeting those who need support,
  2. focus on those establishments which are central to the clinical treatment,
  3. convince the Department of Veterans’ Affairs of the benefits offered, and ensure funding is available to offer the program at no cost to participants.

Finance

  1. Approximately $600 worth of food was provided by our normal supporters. Approximately $390 worth of bread, eggs, and meat products were donated.  The costs for food and other consumables averaged $26.90 per person per day.  Dietary restrictions add to the cost.  The donors have been acknowledged.
  2. The sustainability of funding for the SA trek requires continual monitoring as SA funds are dependent on a number of irregular sources. Each October the Foundation raises funds through a major fundraising activity organized by Adelaide Exercise Physiology, the Veterans’ Support Walk. This was not run in 2020 due to COVID but hopefully will be run this year.

Trek Delivery

  1. Participant numbers will continue to dictate the number and location of future treks offered. This will be assessed and adjusted as needed. The existence and efficacy of the trek anecdotally appears to be well known and understood among ex-service organizations (ESOs) and now among first responders.

Conclusion

  1. The isolation and serenity provided by the bush, and the live-in nature of the trek are powerful catalysts in conveying content with impact. The frank and disarming nature of trek staff creates an environment that facilitates honesty and openness from participants. This in turn aids self-management and recovery.

34. The role modeling exhibited by the trek staff, coupled with the credibility of being surrounded by others with similar lived experiences allows participants to talk openly. Commonly, a paradigm shift occurs over the duration of the trek. Participants recognize and acknowledge past thoughts and behaviors and how they have contributed to their present situation. They then develop a clear sense of hope and self-efficacy, as the realization that other ways of coping are possible and achievable as evidenced by past trekkers.

  1. Sustained by the opinion of strong anecdotal evidence and the qualitative feedback from the journals, the trek achieved the objectives. This was gained through the pursuit of the Foundation philosophy which is supported by the staff. The experience is intended as a circuit-breaker.  Following the trek, participants describe having a new understanding of their choices in thinking and behaviour, a shift in their worldview.
  2. As trekkers return to their daily routines, the challenge for them is to practice and consolidate the strategies learned within their existing support structures with the additional layer of support from past trekkers. They are provided with a “Trek Bible” which contains a brief on all the sessions covered during their time on the trek.  Feedback is positive.
  3. The follow-up support among trekkers is immediately evident by the setting up of a closed Facebook account. This aspect of the experience is important if the impact of the trek is to be maximized.
  4. The participants and staff believe that there is an ongoing role for programs of this nature for veterans (and others). The principles may also be applied to other vocations. The trek is unique and may not suit every veteran, but it is a valuable and effective adjunct to other treatments.  The efficacy of peer-to-peer programs is now well established in academic literature confirmed by Foundation experience.
  5. Further information about the Foundation and trek is available on the web site at www.trojanstrek.com


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Young Veterans’ Charity Walk, Sunday 31st October, 2021

Entry is $30/person and includes a t-shirt.

We normally order enough t-shirts for everyone, but please note, late entries made after October 15th do not guarantee your preferred size.

Online registrations are now closed.
You can still join in by simply presenting to the registration table prior to the walk on Sunday

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REPORT: TROJAN’S TREK SOUTH AUSTRALIA APRIL 2021

No-one can ever take away what this course has provided for me.” –Trekker 2021

Introduction

1. Trojan’s Trek in South Australia (SA) was conducted on Moolooloo Station in the North Flinders Ranges from 17 to 23 April 2021. This was the 13th year treks have been conducted in SA.  The remote location supports one of the key elements of the success of the program; a peaceful setting in an ancient land, free from electronic, mental and physical distractions. This significantly increases the impact of the messages delivered.

2. The Trek was advertised specifically for first responders such as volunteer firefighters, ambulance officers, and police officers who have been exposed to traumatic situations in the line of their duties. It is the second time a trek targeting first responders has been conducted by the Foundation. This was a change in approach to the normal practice when first responders are taken more by exception. All nominations were accepted.

3. Twelve males and two females attended. Of the total, seven were police officers, four firefighters, one paramedic, and two ex-military attended. A new base camp team of three was given the responsibility for base domestic and cooking duties. They performed well.

 Aim

4. The aim of Trojan’s Trek is to provide a setting and conditions under which participants experience a lasting, and positive shift in personal values and interpersonal relationships.

Objectives

5. The objectives of the trek are to assist the participants through group and individual challenge, achieve the following:
a. an understanding of how thoughts and feelings influence behaviour,
b. exposure to various strategies which will bring about positive change,
c. individual responses which are effective in achieving goals,
d. improve interpersonal relationships, and
e. enhance self-esteem

Validation

6. This trek saw a new system of evaluation introduced as a pilot called Goal Attainment Setting (GAS).  The concept involves trekkers setting their own goals and also setting enabling goals to achieve the outcomes they want from life.  Goal setting is important for recovery because it can provide the individual with motivation, particularly when they are functional and directly relate to real-life activities.  A meaningful goal can maximise patient engagement and motivate a patient to participate in rehabilitation in order to achieve their goals.  From initial feedback it appears that goal setting is more useful to the trekkers than ticking boxes in four psychosocial instruments on three occasions to rate change, the method used previously.

7. This practice, recommended by VVCS in 09 was supposed to set the Foundation apart in terms of independent evaluation as the most effective peer outdoor support therapy (POST) in Australia and elsewhere.  That objective was achieved over the past 13 years in spades, but without traction or even inquiries from those in the business who should be forensically looking at data and outcomes, it was assessed as no longer useful.

8. Trekkers are encouraged to complete daily journals which, with agreement are copied and used to measure qualitative gains as well as gaining insight into what sessions are well or otherwise received.  The comments are powerful and provide extremely good feedback as well as personal impact.

COVID 19

9. Fortunately, COVID 19 was a lesser problem during this trek than it was in 2020.  Social distancing and food handling were required to meet health advice standards but these were not onerous.

Program Delivery

10. Success of the trek is built on the credibility and impact of the sessions delivered by facilitators. During this trek five experienced facilitators were employed to deliver fourteen formal sessions. Three of the facilitators were from inter-state. Three mentors were also used to reinforce the messages. When not engaged in delivery, the staff were utilised as mentors to the participants around the campfire and during 4WD vehicle movement. This interaction of staff with small groups of participants assists in building trust and reinforcing messages. The total number attending including base staff was 26. A total of 14 nights”™ accommodation was required before and following the trek to link with transport. Keswick Barracks through the Chief of Staff assisted with the provision of rooms. This arrangement is most satisfactory, economical and safe for vehicle parking.
The trek is supported from a base established at the shearers’ quarters on Moolooloo which is 36 km northeast of Parachilna on the Glass Gorge Road. The station occupies 1400 square kilometres of the country which varies in type and relief from east to west. The distance to the area of the trek is 520 km from Adelaide.

11. All staff departed Adelaide for Moolooloo a day in advance of the participants. This provided additional opportunities for staff briefing and to consolidate content. The total attending was 26 as follows:

Location

12. The trek is supported from a base established at the shearers”™ quarters on Moolooloo which is 36 km northeast of Parachilna on the Glass Gorge Road.   The station occupies 1400 square kilometres of country which varies in type and relief from east to west. The distance to the area of the trek is 520 km from Adelaide.

Travelling this distance is time-consuming and expensive in fuel, but the advantages in having no mobile telephone, television or radio reception more than offsets the disadvantages of travel. A trip of this duration also permits the participants to get to know each other en-route. The feedback from the participants on the travel and location is positive.

Medical Support

13. The nearest fully equipped hospital was at Hawker, approximately 1.5 hours away.   A satellite phone was on hand if the RFDS or medical advice was required.  First line medical support was provided by a paramedic based with the team.  First aid kits were also available and a number of the staff were qualified St John, Apply First Aid.  An AED which was purchased as the result of a successful grant application and added to the medical capability.  In terms of risk management, the longest exposure to the most serious risk was assessed as traffic accidents during the trip to and from Moolooloo.   No medical issues arose.

Equipment and Vehicles

14. All equipment was satisfactory.  Six vehicles were hired from Complete Ute and Van at 50% discount and a 100 series Landcruiser and Hilux were loaned to the Foundation by Pioneer Tanks.  This represents a significant saving in hiring costs.  Two tyres, one from the trailer and one from a hire vehicle and one steel wheel from a hire Hi-Lux were damaged and were replaced.

15. A self-drive hire bus driven by two volunteers transported the trekkers to Moolooloo Station on Sunday. At the conclusion of the trek, staff and participants returned to Adelaide in the 4WD vehicles.

16. During the trek, the 4WD vehicles were used to travel between locations.  This is in alignment with the program logic which utilises the small group environment of the vehicles to prompt further discussions and reflections on issues as they surface following the sessions. This has been found to be so successful that staff refers to this practice as mobile consulting rooms.  It also affords the chance to mix different individuals and staff with an aim to maximize exposure to others”™ views. This has proved to be beneficial; many of the trekkers have remarked on the advantages of spending time in the company of a few individuals as opposed to a larger group.

Weather

17. The weather was optimal for trek delivery with no temperature extremes apart from a manageable 6 degree morning.  The North Flinders Ranges was experiencing a period without recent rain, so the creek beds were dry and the roads and tracks relatively stable.  Some creeks showed the effects of flooding earlier in the year which changed the landscape and creek lines in places.  4WD travel to one location was avoided because of difficult crossings.

Communications

18. Telephone. Mobile telephone coverage in the area is patchy or non-existent with the nearest service at Parachilna and Blinman. This trek, fixed line communications were not available at the shearers”™ quarters despite earlier requests to Telstra.  Although the number was no longer connected or required by the previous owner, apparently the number is quarantined for several months.  It appears the number and line will be available later in the year.  A satellite telephone was available if an emergency arose.  It was not required.

19. Radio. While in the bush UHF hand-held and vehicle mounted radios were used for communications on simplex. Duplex on Channel 3 was available in the area for contact at greater distances by UHF.

Program

20. The program is reviewed regularly to ensure relevant content.  The messages conveyed during the trek are related to relationships and understanding cognitive strategies for behavior management.  A selection of topics including How the Brain Works, Leaving a Legacy, Victim to Warrior and Communications were delivered.   The style and method of delivery, combined with the surroundings, make the messages much more powerful.   This is further enhanced by the group sharing personal experiences.

21. Daily journals also provide useful insight into the power of the program and how the content is being understood by participants. The simple benefit gained from reconnecting with other sufferers cannot be overstated. This is in accordance with the philosophy of the trek which is based on shared first-hand experience.

22. Two new mentors were given the opportunity to continue to develop their skills assisted by experienced facilitators.  This is essential for staff succession planning.

23. All facilitators are selected from past participants. These are normally individuals who found the trek messages so powerful they decided or were invited to take the opportunity to assist in program delivery. Those who have accepted this responsibility describe their continuing gains from attendance by assisting in the transformation of the lives of others.

24. The tenor of the week is relaxed yet highly focused on outcomes. This comes as a surprise to most of the participants whose expectations are for a course run along military lines. This is the antithesis of the program.

25. For this trek a number of first responders were used as facilitators and mentors. The inclusion of staff other than ex-military provides a balance and different experience sets which identified with the trekkers.  Sessions linked to this expertise provides advice and encouragement in a form which is perceived differently to that presented by the veterans.

 Journals

26. The use of a period set aside daily to complete individual journals has proved to be an important element for participants. The journals are used to record personal reflections on the various lessons of the day and the daily experience of the trek. This practice provides an opportunity to review and anchor the day”™s lessons.

27. Past trekkers have commented on the usefulness of this record of reflections as a reminder of the strategies and tools to use after the trek. With consent, the journals are de-identified and used to provide qualitative data to supplement the quantitative psychometric evaluation of the program.

Partners

A Partner”™s Handbook was posted to each partner during the trek. It is designed to deliver three key outcomes;
a. provide information regarding the trek and its intent,
b. provide the partners with some of the ideas and tools that the trekkers will be exposed to, and
c. encourage support for what may be new ideas and behaviours.

 Staff Debrief

29. A staff debrief was conducted at the conclusion of the trek to capture immediate feedback and comment.  Individual feedback was provided to the staff.  The comments will be reviewed by the Operations Director.

Program Viability

30. The Trojan”™s Trek program is demand driven; that is, individuals approach the points of contact indicating a will to attend. This has worked well in SA where male numbers remain reasonably high but are diminishing.  However, with the experience of this trek, the inclusion of first responders added to the pool of experiences and the younger age of some of the participants was beneficial.  The inclusion of first responders is beneficial and does not detract from the outcomes.  In any case, to ensure that the program remains viable and continues to provide support to veterans it is necessary to:
a. continue to advertise the program, targeting those who need support,
b. focus on those establishments which are central to the clinical treatment,
c. convince the Department of Veterans”™ Affairs of the benefits offered, and
d. ensure funding is available to offer the program at no cost to participants.

Finance

31. Some food was provided through Mick who was trek chef. Approximately $370 worth of bread, eggs and meat was donated.  The costs for food and other consumables averaged $25.70 per person per day.  Dietary restrictions add to the cost.  The donors have been acknowledged.

32. Sustainability of funding for the SA trek requires continual monitoring as SA funds are dependent on a number of irregular sources. Each October the Foundation raises funds through a major fundraising activity organized by Adelaide Exercise Physiology, the Veterans”™ Support Walk. This was not run in 2020 due to COVID but hopefully will be run this year.

Trek Delivery

33. Participant numbers will continue to dictate the number and location of future treks offered. This will be assessed and adjusted as needed. The existence and efficacy of the trek anecdotally appears to be well known and understood among ex-service organizations (ESOs) and now among first responders.

Conclusion

34. The isolation and serenity provided by the bush, and the live-in nature of the trek are powerful catalysts in conveying content with impact. The frank and disarming nature of trek staff creates an environment that facilitates honesty and openness from participants. This in turn aids self-management and recovery.

35. The role modeling exhibited by the trek staff, coupled with the credibility of being surrounded by others with similar lived experience allows participants to talk openly. Commonly, a paradigm shift occurs over the duration of the trek. Participants recognize and acknowledge past thoughts and behaviors and how they have contributed to their present situation. They then develop a clear sense of hope and self-efficacy, as the realization that other ways of coping are possible and achievable as evidenced by past trekkers.

36. Sustained by the opinion of strong anecdotal evidence and the qualitative feedback from the journals, the trek achieved the objectives. This was gained through the pursuit of the Foundation philosophy which is supported by the staff. The experience is intended as a circuit-breaker.  Following the trek participants describe having a new understanding of their choices in thinking and behaviour, a shift in their world view.

37. As trekkers return to their daily routines, the challenge for them is to practice and consolidate the strategies learned within their existing support structures with the additional layer of support from past trekkers. They are provided with a “Trek Bible” which contains a brief on all the sessions covered during their time on the trek.  Feedback is positive.

38. The follow-up support among trekkers is immediately evident by the setting up of closed pages of the trek”™s social media accounts. This aspect of the experience is important if the impact of the trek is to be maximized. This group has established their own closed FB page.

39. The participants and staff believe that there is an ongoing role for programs of this nature for veterans (and others). The principles may also be applied to other vocations. The trek is unique and may not suit every veteran, but it is a valuable and effective adjunct to other treatment.  The efficacy of peer-to-peer programs is now well established in academic literature.

40. Further information about the Foundation and trek is available on the web site at www.trojanstrek.com

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OPERATION UNITY’s 366 DAYS FOR VETERANS AND FAMILIES

On 28 April 2021, there will be a launch of 366 days to raise $500,000. Reaching the goal will mean we can:

  • Link 10 veterans with a support dog each through Operation K9 (RSB).
  • Arrange for 64 veterans and first responders to attend a trip that includes counselling and training through Trojan’s Trek.
  • Facilitate 206 attendances at camps and other initiatives for children through Legacy South Australia.
  • Supply a small trailer for Operation Unity to continue with its work for veterans, current ADF members, and their families.
  • The fundraising will commence on the anniversary of the deployment and run for 366 days ending on the anniversary of the deployment.

    The launch is taking place at:

  • Drill Hall and Torrens Parade Ground, King William Street, Adelaide
  • 7:15 am for 7.30 am start on Wednesday 28 April 2021 for attendees of the opening.

Attendance is limited, please contact Operation Unity on 0403 337 772 or e-mail operationunity3@gmail.com if you wish to attend.

You MUST advise on or before Monday 19 April 2021, then we will do our best to ensure you can attend.A short walk of honour for the Al Mathanna Task Group will be taking place at approximately 8.10 am by members of Operation Unity, Operation K9 (RSB), Legacy SA, and Trojan’s Trek.

You can show your support by cheering them on from the Torrens Parade Ground or on the gardens bounded by Frome Road, Sir Edwin Smith Avenue, and King William Street from approximately 8.30 am.

Tax-deductible donations can be made into the following account:

Friends of the Veterans Incorporated

BankSA, BSB 105-086,

Account Number 057073640 and MUST BE MARKEDWALK21

Download the flyer here

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OPERATIONS DIRECTOR ANNUAL REPORT 2020

Introduction

  1. 2020 was a difficult year because of bush fires in the eastern states and SA combined with COVID 19 restrictions. This prohibited running treks in QLD but because the situation had improved by September, a trek was conducted in SA.  QLD has planned to go ahead with the postponed trek on Morton Island in Feb and following that, hopefully, will revert to the normal program.

 

  1. Because the foundation has no significant overheads like wages, shop front, vehicles, or running costs, the lack of activity did not result in pressure on the bottom line which many businesses and not-for-profits felt. However, I do believe that the community is experiencing donor fatigue due to the wonderful response to the fires from the end of 2019 to Feb 2020 which may affect our future fundraising.

Fundraising

  1. The QLD Chapter continues to maintain excellent corporation support through QLD RSL and Bolton Clarke both of which contribute significant financial support. In SA, our support base is much more diverse, the major fundraiser being the Charity Walk which could not be held in its normal form this year because of COVID 19.  Consequently, donations were well down on previous years despite a good effort by Reuben through Adelaide Exercise Physiology (AEP) to conduct a virtual walk.   However, this was offset to a degree by donations from the 9 and 4 RAR Associations, the Country Fire Service Volunteer Association, Kensington RSL, and the Northern Chapter Veterans Motorcycle Club, and several individuals and small businesses.

SA Trek

  1. This year as mentioned, a trek was able to be conducted in SA in September because of easing COVID restrictions. Those attending were a different mix to the standard in that the participation of first responders, particularly firefighters and others affected by fire, were invited.  This initiative originally planned for March was not held because of COVID lockdowns but interest was then shown and retained.  Support for the concept was strong with HE, The Governor, SAFECOM, and the CFS Volunteer Association assisting with advertising and funding among them $5,000 was provided by the CFS Volunteer Association.  The final attendance figures were five firefighters, one paramedic, one police officer, and five ex-military.  The average trekker age was reduced significantly with five firefighters being under 30.  The very good outcomes certainly confirmed my opinion about old dogs and new tricks.

 

  1. Because of COVID isolation requirements, all staff was from SA with one exception. They performed well despite some having to deliver new material.  Although I am not yet in possession of the independent evaluation figures from Flinders University staff, reading the journals provides a forecast of a very successful six days.  Although the Foundation has always included first responders, the Board will discuss the potential of this new market as it impacts our stated objective.

 

  1. Moolooloo is on the market. I hope the new owners yet to be identified, will continue with the current arrangements.

 

QLD Treks

  1. As mentioned, no treks were conducted in QLD in 2020.

 

Services Demand

  1. As indicated in last year’s report v last year, the demand for the type of intervention provided by the Foundation has not decreased despite lower exposure to traumatic operational events overseas. This certainly appears to be the case in QLD where a greater number of ex-military personnel reside.  This trend will continue to be monitored.

 

Newcastle Beacon

  1. In October I received an email approach from a social worker who works for a support organisation called Newcastle Beacon which supports first responders and veterans. She asked if the Foundation was interested in establishing a presence as part of her organisation.  I asked her a number of questions related to the level of interest, local support and funding opportunities.  I have not received a response to date and it remains in the pending box.

 

Program Recognition    

  1. Efforts to have the value of the program publicly recognised by the Department of Veterans Affairs have continued throughout the year. The federal member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie MP, in July, wrote to the Minister, expressing her support and encouraging the Department to do likewise.   To date, no measurable outcome has been achieved.  Sadly, an appointment with the Repatriation Commissioner Mr. Don Spinks AM which was scheduled for 16 Nov in Adelaide had to be cancelled because of new COVID infections in SA.

 

Trek Attendance

  1. Individuals wishing to attend treks are self-nominating. This system works with the added benefit that most who follow this practice have recognised a need and come prepared to take action to correct unhelpful behaviour. Occasionally, trekkers attend because the program is recommended by their clinician or counsellor and as an adjunct to their treatment.  This process makes sense and is preferred to the sometimes laborious alternative of individuals dealing with the various POC.  It also appears to be beneficial according to the trekkers themselves who have added the trek to their treatment regime.

 

Accreditation Day

  1. The Foundation will continue to run what has been termed annual accreditation training. This is now possible with open borders with all states.  Next year it will be run in SA with the support of the 4th Military District, which to date has been most supportive with accommodation before and following treks.  However, I am conscious that this may change over-night.

 

Operations Director Role

  1. As part of the succession, I am in the process of handing over the SA Operations Director role to Eric Ford. I will remain on as the Operations Director, reporting to the board as a member.  I publicly thank Eric for his enthusiasm and interest in veteran matters.

 

Supporting Staff

  1. Finally, to our staff. To Margaret who diligently maintains the Foundation books and minutes to the standard required for the annual audit, thanks.  To our staff in both states, I thank and congratulate them for their input and achievements.  To the three points of contact, whose continual attention to detail ensures our profile in the market is viewed with efficiency, thanks.   To the webmaster, Rachael located in the US, also a big thank you. The website is busy but contains a lot of information which simplifies client understanding of what we are about.  It is our window to the world.  To Dave and Jono who have contributed two years as board members and strong supporters, thanks.  We appreciate the time we have been given by two busy consultants.

 

Conclusion

  1. After 12 years I am constantly amazed at the positive behavioural changes I have witnessed in the client group over this time. I credit these improvements to the diligence and credibility of the staff together with their dedication and professional performance. The beneficiaries from these interventions extend far beyond the individuals directly affected.  I refer of course to the families, partners, and children who are suddenly blessed with having a father or mother back.  And not to overlook the communities which also gain in the broadest sense.

 

Moose Dunlop OAM

Operations Director

19 Nov 2019

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TOUGH YEAR

The year 2020 will go down in the annals of many not for profits as a dog of a year.  Not only was the impact of COVID 19 extremely significant in curtailing activity but add to that the dreadful fires in the eastern states and SA and one sees a fund-raising bottom line which is not impressive.  The community response to the fires was nothing short of exceptional both before and after the COVID impact and most deserving.  However, predictably other fund-raising efforts were made more difficult due to donor fatigue and other more pressing needs.

Because of social distancing Trojan’s Trek could not conduct the annual Charity Walk fundraiser in SA, instead, organised by Reuben Vanderzalm, a virtual walk was held during October.  It was successful but fell short of our usual target.  A dedicated group of AEP gym attendees encouraged by Caelum decided to make the effort to wring out a little more by running a special gym session.  Eight gathered early on 30 October (Veterans’ Health Week) at the Daws Road gym for a dedicated workout to aid the cause raising $555.  The oldest Charity Walk T-shirt competition was won by Brian with a 2013 model. My sincere thanks go to the group for their dedicated welcome support.

Moose Dunlop OAM

Operations Director

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OBSERVATIONS OF A FIRST TIMER ON TROJAN’S TREK

INTRODUCTION

At my invitation, the following article is written by Eric Ford to record his feelings and observations as a first-time attendee on a trek. Eric is taking over the role of Operations Director SA from me. I will remain as the Operations Director for the Foundation. This trek had a slightly different mix of attenders in that first responders, particularly firefighters, were encouraged to take part.  This gesture was in response to the dreadful fires over the summer period in SA. Six firefighters and one police officer were in the group of 12. All were from SA.

OBSERVATIONS OF A FIRST TIMER ON TROJAN’S TREK

As a mental health nurse who had spent 12 years working in Ward 17 at the Repat and then at the Jamie Larcombe Centre, I have known of Trojan’s Trek for some years. I had also worked with Moose back in the 80s at the Reserve Command and Staff College at Hamstead Barracks and had been there when Dogs Kearney was the RSM. They are both essential elements of the trek.

When I retired, I contacted Moose to see if someone with my experience could be of use to the trek. He seemed to think so! So, having worked with Moose in the military, I felt ready to take part.

The trek is run at Moolooloo Station in the North Flinders Ranges of SA. It is a non-clinical adjunct to assist veterans and first responders with issues related to post-traumatic stress illness. These issues range from depression, anxiety, anger, drugs, and alcohol overuse, all of which inhibit the trekkers’ ability to function in his or her “normal” life.

The trek is a six-day bush experience with mentors and facilitators who have been trekkers themselves. As Moose would say they have walked the walk and understand the frustrations being experienced.

On arrival on day one, it was patently obvious that this group had problems. There was no eye contact and I sensed that they shared some common problems as they each introduced themselves. This was difficult for some as it was inevitable that the story of why they had joined the trek would resurface emotional responses.

Three nights in swags around a campfire would change that. Each day was filled with the delivery of sessions on subjects that inevitably struck a chord with the group. The trekkers spent time travelling in 4WD from place to place, talking, and sharing experiences and feelings with the three other passengers which included a staff member.  These periods permitted honest and frank discussion with the mentors and facilitators in the vehicle, and I suspect some had never told their story previously.

The evenings around the campfire also promoted the continuation of the frank non-judgemental sharing. Games were played in the evenings which made trekkers feel part of the group. By day three everyone appeared to be comfortable and open to the ideas and concepts put forward during the daily sessions. Each day was a cathartic experience as we moved from place to place in that beautiful ancient land. By week’s end, there was eye contact all round.

As a first-timer I was impressed with the attitude of the facilitators and mentors, knowing that they had been trekkers themselves. It was obvious that the trekkers gained from the experience with a few asking if they could come back as mentors. Does it work, this quote tells it all,

“I feel like I am about to cry but not for the usual reasons like I used to but because for the first time in as long as I can remember I am so happy so calm and so peaceful and I truly believe I have been given the tools I need to continue this journey of life outside of Trojan’s Trek.”

Certainly, I will be back, I regret that I did not put up my hand much earlier.

Eric Ford

Operations Director SA

OPERATIONS AND COVID—19

Although the states are moving slowly back to approaching normality, some of the remaining restrictions will have an impact on the operations of the Foundation.

The two major hurdles which must be removed before treks can be conducted are border closure and social distancing. If these remain in place it will prohibit interstate travel for staff and participants and the distancing restrictions will make compliance during bus and 4WD travel impossible.

In addition, isolation periods required for inter-state travel create another hurdle.

To gain information that provides a guestimate of when these limitations may be lifted is extremely difficult as the situation may change rapidly with a spike in numbers which could affect other states and locations.

As a rough guide to current predictions note the following announcements;

  • The Brisbane Ecca planned for August has been cancelled.
  • The Royal Adelaide Show, which was scheduled for early September, has been cancelled.

So, I am not hopeful that it will be permissible to conduct treks in 2020 in QLD or SA.

Whether or not it is worth considering running extra treks is yet to be discussed. It will force an examination of subsequent times when conditions, both COVID and weather-related, are respectively diminishing and suitable.  These aspects will be monitored continuously. The Townsville trek is on hold until further notice.

At least five weeks’ notice will be given for each decision.

 

 

Moose Dunlop  OAM
Operations Director
29 May 2020

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VETERANS’ CHARITY WALK 2019

It was an overcast 19 degrees on Sunday on 27 October, ideal for a morning walk around the Torrens Lake for a good cause.   The occasion was the culmination of a few months of organisation to ensure all was in order for the Foundation fundraiser organised by Adelaide Exercise Physiology.  Subjects like; public liability, prizes, the raffle, the auction, late registrations, the BBQ and the coffee van was all part of the myriad of detail to be fitted together.  The start point location, opposite the Vietnam Memorial, was again booked through the Adelaide City Council with parking available on the parade ground. Over 260 walkers and runners had supported the Foundation by registering on the web site as well as the great list of sponsors whose names you will see on the T-shirts.  As an added bonus, our Patron, the Governor, His Excellency, Hieu van Le, AC had agreed to attend and address us.

The winners in all five categories were awarded their cash prizes at the conclusion and in a moment of generosity, all handed back their winnings.  I must mention Mr. Bill Bates who completed the 5 km carrying a 20 kg pack which of itself is a good effort.  But add to that his personal sponsors which resulted in his raising over $1400, great effort!   

The walk generated a profit of $22,731.00, an excellent result.  To our Patron, the Veterans’ Rowing Club, Colin the BBQ man, and our many supporters without forgetting AEP staff and Reuben, I extend our sincere thanks for being involved in a great day.

Moose Dunlop OAM

Operations Director