Associate Professor Ben Wadham can attest to this, having been an infantryman in the Australian Regular Army from 1987 to 1992. He found the transition into public life very difficult, but persistence has seen him achieve great things in academia – especially through focusing on veteran mental health and wellbeing in his current role as Deputy Director of Wellbeing and Resilience for the Órama Institute for Mental Health and Wellbeing at Flinders University.
Through his research into the difficult and largely unspoken areas of veteran education-to-employment pathways, male veteran suicide, institutional abuse within the military and veterans in correctional services, Associate Professor Wadham aims to provide better outcomes for all veterans and their families, to ensure their wellbeing rather than leaving them vulnerable and detached.
“We adopt a social health perspective that includes education, employment, health and justice pathways open to all veterans,” says Associate Professor Wadham. “Research and data are critical to influence better policy that will support more expansive and holistic welfare of all veterans.”
To change the existing paradigm beyond purely social aspects of veteran wellbeing, an economic argument must be introduced that reorientates policy discussions to ensure a better return of investment on veterans. “A lot of money is invested in the training of these Australians, but after they have been put through a lot of challenges and struggles, they are not being looked after as well as they should be,” says Associate Professor Wadham. “If we only see these people as being broken, it builds a culture of welfare dependency. Instead, if we view every veteran as an asset, with great skills and experience, their economic case gains traction within a whole new area of policy and legislation. The economic argument is fundamentally about wellbeing.”
Associate Professor Wadham is taking a strong lead to beat a new path. He led the design, development and coordination of the Military Academic Pathway Program in 2019 to facilitate veteran entry to higher education at Flinders University. This innovative program has been a significant success through its initial four intakes, with 80% of participants intending to pursue higher education, and it was nominated as an Australian Defence Industry Award Finalist for best veteran support program in 2020 and 2021.
Providing such practical assistance is only one step towards realising veteran value. Associate Professor Wadham is the Director of Open Door: Veteran Transition, Integration, Wellbeing, a research initiative at Flinders University that collaborates with the Defence Force Welfare Association South Australian Branch. This Australasian research hub brings together a diverse group of 70 veterans, scholars and practitioners to research service provision and policy initiatives, and through building this multidisciplinary approach, the knowledge in veteran wellbeing is expanding.
Such work will come under the spotlight during the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, for which Associate Professor Wadham provided a submission to help frame the terms of reference. He has been engaged in more than 60 interviews relating to institutional abuse, and being drawn into the intimacies of tragic outcomes has not been an easy personal journey. “The conversations have been strong and fearless, because they are built on trust,” he explains, “and they have never before been recorded as evidence. This work is very important.”
Having pioneered sociological research into the Australian Defence Force since 2004, he came up against initial resistance from some areas of Defence, but is now seen as an ally and an asset. His strong body of work now places Flinders University as a place of excellence in Defence-related work – with social inclusion and wellbeing initiatives interlocked with other work associated with Defence technology, construction and training. It all points towards a more complete and integrated understanding on the true value of veterans.
Discover how Flinders is making a difference to our culture, economy, environment society and world.
Sign up to get updates on upcoming events, news and more.
You consent to the use of our cookies if you proceed.