The background to why Operation NAVIGATOR is necessary can be found in the many reviews and inquiries over the past decade and is continuing with the Royal Commission now. For those of you doing some research, we have assembled links to the key documents here.
The Oasis Townsville's Operation NAVIGATOR is a three-year pilot to support preparing life/career plans for ADF members in the first year of their first posting in their careers in Townsville. Having had some support to think and plan early in their career for the inevitable transition will build resilience in individuals that will inoculate them against the most common problems associated with transition, whenever in the future that might occur.
The effect to be achieved is to improve serving veterans' situational awareness of where they may find themselves 3, 5 or 10 years from now. Given the difficulties some serving veterans have had transitioning, Operation NAVIGATOR will, as a key outcome, focus on individual preparedness to achieve a soft landing back into the community, from which they can launch the next phase of their life with confidence.
A poor transition from the ADF to life in 'civvy-street' is the most significant factor contributing to the poor mental health of ex-serving veterans. The range of mental health problems associated with a poor transition too often leads to physical illness, homelessness, drug abuse, incarceration, and suicide in the ex-serving veteran community. In some demographics, the rate of suicide among ex-serving veterans is almost four times the national average.
Increased support for career and life planning soon after joining the ADF to better prepare serving veterans for inevitable transition was identified as a lesson from the National Suicide Prevention Trial for Veterans and Families – Operation COMPASS (2017-2022). It is also reflected in the recommendations of the Productivity Commission, Inquiry into Compensation and Rehabilitation for Veterans, "A Better Way to Support Veterans" (2019) and the Report by the Interim Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention (2021). It has also been highlighted by the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide (2022).
Townsville is an ideal site for the pilot. 10% of ADF members (600 personnel) separate from the ADF while posted in Townsville. Of those, about 200 remain in Townsville and the remaining 400 return to other locations around Australia.
Operation NAVIGATOR is not about commencing transition early but about preparing for the eventuality. Evidence shows the average length of ADF service is less than ten years. In the first instance, some life planning is likely to help individuals and their families appreciate the value of what they have in their current Service in the ADF. For many, early in their career, it will be difficult to imagine that they will ever leave the ADF. The experience of The Oasis Townsville has been that many ADF members transitioning have given little or no thought to what they will do after their return to civil community. They are typically focused on a separation date and believe they can "work it out when they are out". After acknowledging the inevitability of transition, effort can be applied to how to best prepare for transition.
The amount of time generally allowed for transition is often considered long by individuals separating but is too short to prepare for an effective and safe transition to civvy street. It is usually enough time to complete the checklist necessary to separate. However, most separating with few complications find the time drags, especially if the rest of their team is busily engaged in training, exercises, and other activities. Importantly, the time from completing the AC853 to separation is too short to prepare for life and career after Service in the ADF. It is important that some thinking and planning has been completed, by individuals separating, from as early in their career as is practical. This is especially the case if an individual left their parents’ home to join the ADF with little or no experience of civilian life before joining.
There is a clear appetite for serving veterans to begin thinking and planning for their inevitable transition. The Oasis Townsville is dealing with an increasing number of ADF members who have not formally begun the transition process – commenced by completing Form AC853. There is an apparent desire for many serving veterans to do a better job of thinking through their prospects before the need to separate becomes evident. These ADF members are generally satisfied with their careers in the ADF and typically seek only to understand their options better should circumstances change. The main effort is to help them appreciate what they might like to do and what preparations could commence earlier to better ensure readiness for transition. This might particularly be education and skills for their next preferred job.
Some targeted information and a bit of guidance from someone who has served in the ADF, and has transitioned, is most likely to offer a sense of confidence about the future. A simple set of goals for three, five and ten years and a few well-thought-out actions to support their achievement will help individuals feel more assured about their future. As all good planners know, the plan will not necessarily pan out exactly, but the thought that went into devising it helps make better choices as options present. Feeling confident about responding to life events contributes to maintaining good mental health. Central to good mental health is understanding what the future can hold and feeling confident that some influence can be had over what that future could look like. Importantly, if the penny doesn’t drop immediately, they know where to return to pick up where they left off.
The goal of Operation NAVIGATOR is to create a resilient veteran community. It supports efforts to obviate the need to focus on saving the lives of ex-serving veterans and their families suffering from mental health problems and associated adverse consequences. The veteran community can actively contribute and support the communities they rejoin after ADF service. They have much to give if afforded a soft landing back to civilian community.