A 5-year (2017-22) $5mil Program Funded by
Department of Health and Aging
and embedded in
The Oasis Townsville
Operation COMPASS was the codename for one of the 12 national suicide prevention trials that trialled initiatives that are likely to have a better chance of reducing the rate of suicide in the ex-serving veteran community. It was run from Townsville, North Queensland, from June 2017 to December 2022.
See a Black Dog Institute report on the 12 trial sites, here.
In 2020, Operation COMPASS commenced the evaluation and report writing phase while transferring as many of the 22 active initiatives to organisations and institutions that could continue them, given their success. Those that remained on 1 July 2020 were transferred to The Oasis Townsville. The Oasis Townsville completed the trial through to the end of 2022.
Many of the initiatives were taken on by The Oasis Townsville from the Enduring Connections Campaign (one of 6 campaigns). The primary driver for this campaign is to prove the significance of connections in reducing mental health problems and improving the wellbeing of veterans and their families.
The Black Dog Institute produced a report on Operation COMPASS titled "Prevention through connections: supporting veterans to thrive when their service ends" in November 2021.
In five years, Operation COMPASS ran six campaigns and trialled over 30 initiatives, of which 22 were assessed as being worthy of pursuit in the veteran community to achieve a reduction in mental health problems and suicide among veterans and their families.
A short paper on what the Chair of Operation COMPASS considered the 10 lessons can be found here.
Royal Commission Defence and Veteran Suicide Update
When the Royal Commission commenced, Operation COMPASS provided a comprehensive submission that included all of the experience gained and gave evidence to the Royal Commission when it sat in Townsville in 2022.
The RSL NSW Royal Commission Office prepares daily summaries of the Royal Commission hearing proceedings, which are available at the bottom of this page on their website.
Some of the key initiatives that originated in the Trial and others that The Oasis Townsville has since pursued as part of the ongoing operation to keep Operation COMPASS at its core, are detailed below.
Suicide Prevention Toolkit for
Primary Health Networks
This toolkit was created by Black Dog Institute and The Oasis Townsville to support Primary Health Networks (PHNs) in the delivery of more targeted and responsive services to serving and ex-serving members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
Australia’s 31 Primary Health Networks (PHNs) are independent organisations working to the Federal Department of Health and Aged Care to streamline health services – particularly for those at risk of poor health outcomes – and to better coordinate care so people receive the right care, in the right place, at the right time.
Veteran Health Training for GPs
This face-to-face educational event, facilitated by a General Practitioner who recently transitioned out of the Defence Force and an Orthopaedic Surgeon skilled in defence and veteran health conditions, provides GPs with the opportunity to reinforce and improve healthcare management for Defence Veterans.
This educational event aims to improve knowledge, skills and confidence in defence veteran health consultations. We provide GPs with clarity around conducting post-ADF health assessments, Medical Impairment Assessments, the Coordinated Veteran Care (CVC) program, and enrolment and implementation.
This course enhances the ability of GPs to provide health services in the complex area of serving Veterans transitioning back to civilian life. Veteran presentations are common in primary care in many areas around Australia where Defence has large bases, and ex-serving veterans choose to settle after service. A few good examples of these areas are Townsville, Darwin, Albury-Wodonga, Nowra and the Southeast corner of Queensland.
This activity provides education in an area often identified as important but challenging due to the uncertainty of navigating veteran health issues and associated healthcare planning.
Distinguish common musculoskeletal conditions that impact Veterans' health
Outline the process for an ADF Discharge Health Assessment and formulate a process to implement within your clinic
Formulate a process to support veterans to submit claims for assistance with the Department of Veterans Affairs
Develop a process to identify the qualifying features of the Co-ordinated Veterans Care (CVC) program and its activation within your practice.
Utilise appropriate software and resources to bill for veteran consultations appropriately.
Discuss key history and examination findings for common upper and lower limb pathologies.
Perform an examination on a patient with musculoskeletal concerns in the upper and lower limbs.
GP's interested in improving how they support veterans, here is a RACGP CPD solution for veterans' health.
Veteran Health Pathways
The development of Health Pathways was an initiative of Operation COMPASS that was taken up early by NQPHN.
The HealthPathways will help general practitioners (GPs) support former and transitioning ADF members to navigate the mainstream civilian healthcare system. The clinical pathways will be provided to all PHNs nationally to ensure a consistent approach, localised for each region, based on the available resources.
To help ensure the Veterans’ HealthPathways (VHPs) are effective and to identify areas to improve GP and veteran engagement more broadly, former and transitioning ADF members were consulted, and GPs in two focused, yet robust, workshops, were conducted in concert with The Oasis Townsville.
Dr Kerry Summerscales, of Health on Central in Mackay, said that generally, civilian GPs are less aware of the challenges facing veterans in mainstream health care and are less aware of how DVA operates.
She said practical issues such as filling out forms correctly and receiving the proper remuneration were other concerns discussed.
Dr Summerscales, an Army veteran of 30 years, said having DVA representatives at the workshops was vital as they listened to the concerns of both former and transitioning ADF members and GPs.
Assisting GPs with up-to-date pathways will better enable former and transitioning ADF members to access all the available programs. The VHPs are being developed in close collaboration with DVA.
Building relationships within the veteran community comes down to one thing: trust. And there are few
people who veterans trust more than other veterans. Leveraging this trust was at the heart of the Community
Grants Scheme, one of the major projects delivered through Operation Compass.
“This was true for most groups within the cohort, but particularly younger veterans. How could we both better engage with our community and harness some good ideas that would contribute to the Operation Compass vision?”
The grants scheme was a seed funding initiative that supported small-scale veteran organisations and trusted community groups to deliver wellbeing and resilience projects for ex-serving veterans in Townsville. The aim was to build enduring connections through acts of service, creativity and adventure, helping participants establish a community of trusted mates after leaving active service.
Over three years, the scheme provided funding for 27 projects, all with a strong emphasis on wellbeing,
connection and resilience – the ‘upstream’ of suicide prevention – rather than necessarily focusing on crisis support.
Ashvin’s Health Cycle, a static bicycle training program that emphasised social inclusion and physical and mental health through the provision of ‘social prescriptions’ from local pharmacy partners.
The Cameleers, a group of veterans who partnered with local Indigenous communities to run field trips and archaeological digs.
Shed 3, a local not-for-profit organisation that ran weekly art workshops.
BrothersNBooks, a reading initiative that encouraged veterans to read books, share their stories and reduce stigma around mental ill health.
The Community Grants Scheme also provided a pathway for veterans to engage with other Operation Compass activities, including volunteering and suicide prevention training. The projects reached almost 500 participants in the Townsville community and were well received by their intended audience.
“I think just being around other soldiers and having an opportunity like this just brings out the best in yourself and your peers,” one participant said.
“It has been an opportunity for every single one of us to put behind us our issues and our problems and concentrate on the task at hand. That’s what every single veteran needs.”
Community and Peers Program
The Peer Program established by Open Arms began in Townsville as one of the first ideas raised as part of Operation COMPASS.
The Open Arms community and peer program involves ‘lived experience’ peers. Peers work collaboratively with veterans, family supports, community agencies and mental health clinicians. Community and Peer Advisors now complement counselling and group program service at Open Arms all over Australia. They provide a more holistic and therapeutic experience for clients.
Mental Health Apps
Over the course of Operation COMPASS we experimented with several mental health apps and even funded gave Swiss8 a $25,000 grant to develop the app. Many of them have some great characteristics, but our determination was that they are very much individual dependant. Without the time or experience we were also unable to do a due diligence on the apps to confirm their veracity. We found the best option was to offer what are considered to be the best apps for mental health and they can be found on the Queensland Government Sit, along with websites and podcasts.