Transitioning from military service to civilian life can hold many challenges for veterans and health matters can be at the forefront. Life in military service typically involves free medical, dental and health support with many systems in place including compulsory annual check-ups. This allows our service members to get on with doing their jobs without having to worry about when their next check-up is due; it is all organised for them, minimal planning necessary.

Difficulties can begin when veterans discharge from service. It is very common for them to let their medical and health support fall by the wayside.  They no longer have a system reminding them of when they are due for a check-up and on top of this, the services provided are no longer free. They also need to find themselves a network of medical and health practitioners, where previously these decisions would have been based purely on who was available at the base medical facility.

With this in mind, it is critical that veterans establish a consistent and reliable network of practitioners for their medical and health support. As part of this process, it is highly recommended that they schedule regular check-ups and reviews in advance. This will provide some semblance of familiarity for them, and will make it harder for veterans to become complacent about their health.

Military service also typically involves daily Physical Training (called ‘PT’) as part of the employment requirements. Usually PT would be conducted within units with military members training alongside their colleagues. Again, this format removes any responsibility from the members for the organisation of their own fitness training and the group dynamic aids in fostering military esprit de corps. Post-transition, they no longer have daily fitness training organised for them, and in many cases they may not have friends or colleagues involved in organised fitness training that they can participate in. Whilst organised group PT doesn’t have to be a part of a veteran’s life after service, it is still important that each veteran finds a form of physical activity to participate in. This could take the form of Personal Training, Group Fitness classes, organised sports or outdoor PT groups.

The issues we have discussed not only have a direct impact on a veteran’s physical health, but they can have lasting effects on mental health. In this era of high operational tempos for the Australian Defence Force, it’s not uncommon for veterans to complete a number of operational deployments to the world’s danger zones during their period of service. We have seen through a growing number of media reports and government statements that this is having a huge impact on the mental health of our veterans. These mental health issues are one of the major problems affecting our veteran community, and they must be part of any discussion regarding veterans’ health.

Another issue facing our veterans as they leave their service lives behind them is the loss of camaraderie that they experienced while in uniform. Upon discharge many veterans move back to their hometowns, or perhaps to a new city where a new job awaits them, effectively creating distance between themselves and the colleagues they had a unique bond with. This scenario leaves many of our veterans feeling as though they don’t belong or fit in with their new surroundings. Signing up to a local sports club, or an organised fitness program can assist with this transition by providing some sense of camaraderie and being part of a team, whilst keeping veterans physically active.

Whilst it’s not the goal of this blog to discuss mental health issues specifically, exercise has been clinically shown to provide positive benefits to mental health and we strongly urge all veterans to participate in a regular exercise program not just for the physical benefits, but the mental benefits as well.

In summary, it is highly recommended that all veterans follow this short list of very simple guidelines in order to maintain their health:

  • Establish a reliable network of medical and health practitioners
  • Schedule appointments, reviews and check-ups in advance
  • Participate in regular physical activity
  • Enjoy organised sport or some form of group activity
  • Make mental health a priority

Ash Sinclair