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Spiritual healing for wounded veterans

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Cosgrove opens new Richmond PTSD hospital for veterans. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Patron of a major Catholic hospital project Sir Peter Cosgrove has praised the spiritual element of healthcare as most needful, in a fast-changing society where many people are being left behind.

The former governor-general and head of the Australian Defence Force unveiled a new wellness centre at St John of God Hospital in Richmond on 3 August for the mental health care of military veterans and first responders.

The centre is the first stage of a $65 million redevelopment and contains a gym, indoor pool, treatment rooms and a meditation or meeting room.

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Seventy per cent of veterans and 85 per cent of first responders from police, ambulance and fire brigades are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder on admission to the specialist hospital.

“Part of our Australian character is what I call ‘muscular compassion’ where we identify the needs of people who would otherwise be left behind by the fast pace of Australian life and reach out to them and bring them with us,” Sir Peter said at the opening, attended by the hospital’s executives and senior leaders, board members, veterans and members of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.

“We do it in all forms of healthcare but one of the most needy forms of healthcare is that which you cannot see—that which is in the spirit of the person who is feeling left behind and has been neglected.”

Sir Peter told The Catholic Weekly that as a former soldier he had known many people affected by PTSD and described it as a powerful but often silent and invisible injury. “I’ve heard the testimonies of St John of God clients who are struggling with post traumatic outcomes of many degrees, and to hear how their lives had become diminished by their condition was very moving,” he said.

“But then to hear and see the interactions they were having with the clinical experts here was just remarkable.”

As a Catholic he said he is “enormously proud” of the role of church’s role in healthcare.
“These days it’s the ethos rather than the staffing that is so resonant with Catholicism,” he said.

“But wherever that ethos remains strong then Catholic hospitals will be an incredibly important part of the national fabric of health care. “I have no doubt that the core of the morality of life-saving, life-affirming care in the Catholic part of the health system is as strong as ever it was.

“So I think with all of the challenges that modernity extends to the profound faith of Catholicism, there’s an invaluable area that is in health care. It clings to the purest motives of Christianity and Catholicism.”

Richmond parish priest Fr Gayan Thamel blessed the new facility, praying that “comforted in their illness, patients will discover the richness and fullness of their lives, giving them a reason to hope and a greater sense of their own dignity.”

Chief executive officer Colman O’Driscoll paid tribute to the St John of God brothers who established the hospital 70 years ago and responded to the mental care needs of Vietnam war veterans.

“You just stepped up and got it done and I hope what we are doing now is investing in the next 70 years to continue to be here for those communities,” he said.

“Many people come here who are really struggling and we know that the impact of mental illness and mental ill health has on people’s lives and the role too, that physical activity has on people’s recovery.

“This is an exceptional facility for a group of people, particularly in our defence and first responders community who serve every day, many making the ultimate sacrifice, but who are often forgotten after that.

“The story of Richmond is about not forgetting those people.” The next stage of the Richmond redevelopment, due to be opened in late October, will include 112 private rooms, with the historic Belmont House remaining a prominent feature of the new design.

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