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.