Today, the RSA will officially launch its 2018 Poppy Appeal to raise vital funds to support New Zealand's 41,000 veterans, returned servicemen and women and their families. With a theme of 'Not all wounds bleed', it will focus on the mental health needs of veterans, and recent veterans, in particular. Issues associated with return from deployment, Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries (PTSI), mental health issues and transition to civilian life can have a significant impact on veterans – including those men and women now serving – as well as their families. Poppy Day this year is Friday, April 20.

A joint initiative between the RSA and New Zealand Defence Force is being seen as a pilot model as to how they can work together to support serving personnel and veterans.

Although the Defence Force and RSA offer a raft of support services, Canterbury RSA district support adviser and Borneo and Vietnam veteran Eddie Bassett and Captain Rebecca Maddaford, NZ Army nursing officer and Timor veteran, found that some people were still falling through the cracks.

By teaming up, they realised they could help a lot of people with all sorts of things.

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The Burnham Hub, based just outside the wire of Burnham Military Camp south of Christchurch, launched in January last year.

Since then, it has helped 34 families and individuals in a wide array of ways.

"It's already made a helluva difference to these families and their lives," said ex-NZ Army WO1 and veteran Lorraine Aitken who works on base and volunteers as an RSA local support adviser.

She and her colleagues receive requests for support and manage inquiries from serving personnel or ex-servicepeople.

Ex-NZ Army WO1 and veteran Lorraine Aitken who works on base and volunteers as an RSA Local Support Adviser says the Burnham Hum has already helped more than 30 people since its inception a year ago.
Ex-NZ Army WO1 and veteran Lorraine Aitken who works on base and volunteers as an RSA Local Support Adviser says the Burnham Hum has already helped more than 30 people since its inception a year ago.

Requests for support are then co-ordinated with NZDF where appropriate or with the RSA to provide support, which can be financial, moral or material depending on the need.

Returned soldiers can access specialist counselling for traumatic events, but it's not always available to families and children. The Hub is helping to extend that outreach.

"Our wee tamariki are resilient but sometimes they just need a little support too," says Aitken.

The Hub also helps with the little things that can make a big difference: buying school uniforms, planning household budgets, writing wills, paying for short respite breaks, and filling out Veterans Affairs documentation. They host coffee mornings and hold education sessions around safe internet use.

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Every Wednesday afternoon, staff are always around to offer what they call "a hand up, not a hand out".

It's a multi-agency collaborative case management approach "inside and outside the wire".

"There's no discrimination, you don't have to have served overseas, it doesn't matter what rank you are, it's there for anyone in a time of need," Aitken said.

"Sometimes it's the first time people have been able to raise issues. People come in and say, 'I'm not alright', or 'I have nowhere else to go'. It can be heartbreaking to hear their personal stories but it's incredibly rewarding to be able to help out in some way."

Maddaford said it's helped develop a more coordinated approach to rehabilitation for injured, wounded, or ill soldiers.

It's also connecting military families with the RSA and highlighting just how the organisation is there to help them.

"Our contemporary veterans don't see themselves as veterans but it's important that they are recognised as champions, they are veterans, and the RSA want them to feel just as welcome as any veteran that has come in the past," Aitken said.

Now, it's hoped that the Burnham Hub model will be rolled out across other New Zealand camps and bases.

• NZME is an official media partner of this year's Pin A Poppy campaign. Visit www.pinapoppy.co.nz to donate – including the option to get a $3 virtual poppy via text