Soldier at Ease

Photo: Ken Lloyd and his service dog

SOLDIER AT EASE

The changing face of veteran affairs: how to help our soldiers once they return home. 

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LEADERSHIP: Phil Roberts was a pastry chef when he decided to join the army at 23 years old. “My boss was previously a French paratrooper and I think it was his stories that sparked my interest,” he says. Ten years later Roberts left, exhausted and burnt out. “I still enjoyed the army but I’d had enough of operational work on the ground. I wanted more of a family life and just to sleep in a bed every night.”

Like many of his peers, he sought manual labour and security work before coming across internships offered through Soldier On, a service set up to help returning veterans, and he was offered a position with PwC in Canberra. “I was more scared of turning up to the office for my first day than I was going to Iraq,” Roberts says.

“The change in work environment, from the field to an office, was dramatic. I almost felt like I was working in a different country. The language was different and I initially found it very  fatiguing.” Robert’s story is a familiar one, says Phil Baker, a director at PwC’s Canberra office who plays a leading role in supporting veterans and helping colleagues and clients get involved. The challenges each individual can face are diverse. While some transition seamlessly into civilian employment, others struggle with a range of issues including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), that have arisen from their military service. There is no one size fits all solution. Baker says the corporate sector can make a massive difference in helping programs such as Soldier On internships scale their services more effectively. A growing network of service providers combined with new recruiting policies in the corporate sector are making a difference. One such service is Integra Service Dogs - a not-for-profit organisation placing specially trained labradors with veterans and first responders who suffer a range of conditions including PTSD. The program is scaling to support more than 100 people across Australia by the end of the financial year. Integra’s model also supports veterans and their dogs to achieve the Public Access Test, so the veterans can legally take their dog everywhere. The process from sourcing to placing a dog isn’t cheap - some $20,000 - and Integra relies on donations and volunteers to do its work. Samantha Jansen, a senior analyst at PwC Australia, saw first-hand the impact of PTSD when her godfather, Ken Lloyd, was struck down by the condition. “He just started drifting away a bit and not coming to events.

It got to the point where he couldn’t leave the house and his speech started to suffer,” Jansen says. Receiving a service dog has helped change Lloyd’s life. “His smile and jokes have returned and he’s fun to be around once again,” Jansen says. “You can tell that he’s much more comfortable with his service dog there.”

Jansen, who is also a volunteer at Integra, is part of a PwC team helping the organisation scale its services.

“We started by doing an environmental analysis so they could better understand what other services were out there, and we’re now helping them with cost-benefit analysis using our economists, and with building a marketing strategy to build awareness of their service,” she says. “A lot of people suffering PTSD are in the prime of their lives and if we can support organisations that help those people re-engage, we will see their health improve and be able to use their skills to benefit the community.” Meanwhile, Roberts has been at PwC for 14 months and has accepted a permanent role. He says his confidence has grown and he’s looking forward to seeing the project he was put on at the start of his internship through to its conclusion. “My family and friends were shocked, but happy and supportive, when I told them I was going to work for PwC, and I still get messages on LinkedIn from friends saying ‘you work for who?!’ ” he says.

When forced to take extended leave from his internship following a bout of ill-health, Roberts says the support provided made a huge difference. “As well as all the messages of support from my new colleagues, I was given as much time as I needed to focus solely on my recovery. I couldn’t believe a workplace would step up and support someone like that,” he says.

The Press is a publication by PwC Australia, aimed at sharing expertise,capturing insights and working together to solve important problems.

This article first appeared in Edition 3 of The Press
By Charlie Carter, Senior Reporter, The Press

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