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Treating invisible battle wounds

A new online course launched by the federal government will give nurses greater understanding of the common mental health issues faced by Australia's 325,000 war veterans, widows and widowers.

The issue of mental health disorders amongst Australian Defence Force personnel, both serving and retired, has gained prominence in recent years, with health officials expressing concern at the extent of illnesses.

The vetAWARE course was developed to raise further awareness and provide up-to-date information to nurses supporting these patients.

Minister for Veterans' Affairs Warren Snowdon announced the course in January, a commitment from the government to provide appropriate, accessible and evidence-based mental health care for veterans.

"Working with the medical community to increase their awareness and understanding of veterans' mental health conditions is an important part of this work," he said.

"The vetAWARE course increases nurses' understanding of the common mental health challenges faced by veterans, and how best support them and their families."

Dr Stephanie Hodson, mental health adviser for the Department of Veterans' Affairs, is a ADF veteran herself - awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross for service in the Middle East area of operations and East Timor.

She described the course as an interactive tool that focused on using a range of different techniques to appeal to different types of learners.

"The course has a number of different media platforms in the online training to make it engaging. It has short videos, short presentations from military experts, engaging hypothetical scenarios and includes puzzles to solve and regular quizzes to test knowledge."

Those that undertake the 90-minute course can expect to gain a better understanding of a range of mental health issues faced by veterans including how to identify them, what's the best ways to initially deal with them - and what are the specific issues you should be looking at for veterans in particular.

"Community nurses in particular have regular contact with and are major parts of the lives of some of our very vulnerable clients," Hodson said. "They are likely to be some of the first people who are likely to see problems developing."

Mental health problems common to those who have served in the military include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and alcohol-related disorders.

"Across a service or military career, veterans will have been through a number of potentially traumatic events or stressful deployments," Hodson said. "This is training specifically for nurses dealing with veterans who may have more complex trauma problems."

The vetAWARE course is endorsed by the RCNA and offers 10 Continuing Nursing Education points and Continuing Professional Development points.

At present it is only available to DVA contracted community nurses, however, due to positive feedback the department is now working to make it generally available to nurses.

For more information, visit the DVA website www.dva.gov.au

Key components of the training

• Understanding the veteran experience
• Overcoming the stigma related to mental health issues
• Understanding the role of community nurses
• Identifying factors that can affect or co-exist with mental disorders
• Recognising and responding to mental health disorders
• Building skills to establish trust, communicate effectively and work with resistance
• Setting boundaries and applying self-care strategies
• Understanding referral pathways and available resources

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