People who know me have heard me bang on about educating our defence personnel while they are still serving. This is not a new idea. Currently, serving defence members are restricted to engaging in study that directly benefits their service. My point of difference is that they should be allowed to study whatever they want, whenever they want, and beyond a minimum length of service. This is why I founded the first of its kind Wanderers Education Program back in 2012.
Many people also know my passion and interest in the biopsychosocial complexity of human performance. One well-established area of interest for us at Stotan is the strong connection between physical exercise and mental health and wellbeing.
With that in mind, consider the following.
- During service, military people spend many hours in gyms or in other physical training. It is familiar and is fundamental to building the competence and resilience required for military service.
- The structure around gym and physical training commitments in the military provide routine, important for all of us to function as humans and this guides us towards effort and fulfillment.
- Gyms and physical training contribute to a centre of gravity inside the military which, as a community of practice, profoundly impacts and shapes the identity of its members and facilitates belonging.
- On discharge from defence this connection to physical training is suddenly removed.
- The first couple of years of separation from defence is a vulnerable time, with many veterans at high risk of poor health and wellbeing outcomes.
- Almost all veterans report a loss of identity and belonging as a significant challenge during their transition.
I wonder how we might taper the transition process to ensure as much of the scaffolding that the military provides during service is carried into the next phase of a veterans new life? I believe we should give all transitioning military members free gym membership to any gym in Australia for at least the first year after discharge. Gyms and health centres could show support by adopting a discounted veteran’s annual rate or at least entering into a partnership with the government.
We have shared this idea on the many occasions we have had an ESO or government audience and hope that, when this pandemic is over, some consideration will be given to negotiating for gym access for all veterans. It may even spark a veteran-run / owned network that might supplement the great work being done by, for example, the RSL.
Providing transitioning defence members access to their local gym would have short (soft landing in transition), medium (routine and health and wellbeing focus), and long-term (healthcare savings) implications for mental health in veteran communities. Not to mention the opportunity to monitor and measure their transition. But most importantly, I believe that for many it will facilitate a sense of belonging, routine, and identity that I have observed is so important to the successful transition of our veterans.