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Veterans' skills prove valuable in crisis

A group of veterans across Australia have shown heroism of a different kind, after going above and beyond to help our nations’ most vulnerable citizens overcome a new battle on home soil.

Since July 2020, more than 65 veterans have undertaken a fast-tracked Emergency Induction Program, enabling them to fulfil non-clinical support roles across aged care facilities in Victoria during the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

Ex-serviceman Chad Dalton was among the volunteers who participated in the program and said he knew the experience, skills and values he’d gained during his time in the Australian Defence Force could be put to use to assist with the outbreaks.

“Like all veterans, I felt a sense of duty to the community,” Chad said.

“I also felt helpless knowing families couldn’t see their loved ones in aged care; it was heart breaking.”

Having come from a close-knit family with a long history of military service, Chad’s patriotic spirit is one that formed from a young age and saw him serve for eight-and-a-half years in the Royal Australian Air Force.

“As a kid, my father would take me to the RAAF base in Williamtown, New South Wales. We would sit in the car and watch the fighter jets take off for hours. It was a fascination I had as a kid and I always knew I was going to join the RAAF,” Chad said.

“Like most things in life there are amazing times and some tough times. My proudest moments were being able to assist with the Bali bombings and help repatriate Australian citizens back home. Also being deployed to the Solomon Islands in 2003 to assist in the peacekeeping mission. It required hard living while we were there, and the risk of contracting malaria was extremely high, but the joy of seeing little kids running around happy knowing we were there to help them gave me so much joy.”

Chad now holds the valuable work he carried out within the aged care sector during 2020 up there with some of his most fulfilling roles.

“Getting to provide care to aged care residents during an extremely difficult time and make a difference in their day was extremely humbling and rewarding,” Chad said.

“I was told so many amazing stories by the residents — stories I wish the people of Australia knew during the lockdown. It would have put things into perspective for us all to work together to get through these tough times.”

The initiative was a result of a collaboration between TAFE Queensland, East Coast ApprenticeshipsIronside Recruitment and the Victorian aged care sector, which saw veterans inducted, trained and deployed to aged care homes with significant outbreaks or staff stand-downs within 72 hours of the program’s initiation.

The veterans were trained across a number of areas — from supporting COVID testing in aged care facilities and drive-through clinics and supporting staff in aged care residential homes, to working closely with the clinical staff and nurse unit managers to ensure teams were cohesive and aligned to their plans.

Chad was assigned the role of client liaison which required him to keep residents company, take them for supervised walks outside, organise video and phone calls with their families, and assist with issues like computer problems.

“I was doing anything that would make this tough time a little easier on them, and to reassure their families they weren’t alone and they were getting the love and attention they deserve,” Chad said.

Chad said the experience was incredibly rewarding, with the people he met leaving a lasting impression.

“I met a gentleman who was 100-years-old. He was quite reserved and fragile. He would often sit on his bed and look out the window. I did find it difficult to get him to engage in conversation. I scanned around his room and saw a small plaque with a RAF (Royal Air Force) crest. I asked him if he served, and he told me he was a spitfire pilot in World War II."

“He flew over 300 missions during the war. We ended up sitting on his bed together and I showed him videos of spitfires flying in air shows. It brought him to tears and he said how much he missed them. He could recall and explain in detail every piece of instrumentation in the cockpit. By the time I left, he had a big smile on his face. It is a memory I will treasure forever.”

Belinda Strahan from Ironside Recruitment said those with a defence background are the perfect fit to help in a crisis, possessing an incredible amount of skills and experience desperately needed in situations like these.

“Despite the obvious benefits of an extra set of hands, our teams are well trained, resilient, respond well in crisis situations, and show exceptional levels of leadership and empathy — there is no better resource than Australian veterans,” Belinda said.

“In many cases the veteran workforce team was the difference of some facilities being able to stabilise — this included governance, communications and leadership."

Chad said he believes with the right mindset and the thorough training provided, this positive program could be rolled out in future to non-veterans as well.

“Having this training, I knew I could go into any facility battling an outbreak with the tools and knowledge to protect my colleagues, the residents and myself,” Chad said.

Although Chad has now returned to his full-time job as an Aircraft Maintenance Planner, the connections he has formed with residents throughout this program has moved him to volunteer at the aged care home once the restrictions have eased.