Home' Southern Health News : August 2016 Contents PTSD Program
celebrates 20 years
BY TRACEY HUTTON
The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD) Program at Repatriation General
Hospital has been helping Veterans and
their families put the pieces of their lives
back together in the aftermath of war for
The PTSD Unit was officially opened on 29 June
1996 within Ward 17 providing the only nationally-
accredited Department of Veterans’ Affairs funded
program in South Australia for Veterans.
Dr Linda McCarthy, Director of the PTSD Unit for
17 years, said the program had built a reputation
based on trust and confidence amongst the
Veterans it has served.
“The Veterans served by our hospital and this unit
are a group of men and women to whom we
owe a debt of gratitude,” Dr McCarthy said.
“They are highly trained, and have strong value
systems that reflect discipline, dedication and
“The challenges they have had to face during their
service have meant that they have undertaken
duties that have later impacted upon their lives in
a profound way, with significant consequences for
their emotional, moral and mental state.
“We all owe these Veterans an obligation to
provide care of the highest standard, underpinned
by the best expertise that can be accessed.”
The program is an intensive eight-week patient-
centred course which includes components such
as psycho-education, group work, mindfulness
meditation, physiotherapy, yoga and Tai Chi.
There is a strong focus on involving partners as
part of the program.
The program provides assessment and treatment for
Veterans from previous conflicts but also for current
defence force members, those who have served as
peace keepers and emergency services personnel.
Since the program began, there have been 106
courses offered through the PTSD Program –
including 12 World War II courses – covering
approximately 634 consumers.
Clinical Head of Ward 17 Dr Taryn Cowain said
the program had offered hope to those who have
accessed it over the years, supporting them in
their journey to recovery.
“In the 16 years I have been with the unit I have
seen CEOs, health professionals, truck drivers,
farmers, managers, grandfathers, fathers,
mothers, sisters, sons and daughters all suffering
after their exposure to trauma,” Dr Cowain said.
“I have heard the horror of the stories, the weight
of moral injury and the burden of trying to
manage the overwhelming emotions or powerful
emotional numbing that subsequently occurs and
the many, many ways this works to fracture lives.
“Through this all I have seen, repeatedly, the help
the PTSD program provides and the hope it offers.”
A celebration to mark this special milestone
was held on Thursday 4 August 2016 and was
attended by special guest Minister for Mental
Health and Substance Abuse Leesa Vlahos.
In late 2017, the PTSD Unit will move to a new
contemporary space at the Veteran’s Mental
Health Precinct at Glenside, where staff will
continue to deliver patient-centred programs
for Veterans and emergency services personnel
For Vietnam Veteran Bob Lewis,
69, the signs of Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD) did not
take their toll until many years
after he returned home from war.
Bob, of Meningie, served in Vietnam for
12 months during 1968 and 1969.
“When I came home from Vietnam
things were very different – in my mind
the rest of the world was crazy and I
was just fine,” Bob says.
Despite this, Bob was dealing with
ongoing nightmares, flashbacks and a
range of other symptoms associated
with PTSD. He quit his job as a
mechanic and tried to deal with life
after the war as best he could.
It wasn’t until May 2015 that the “lid
blew off the pressure cooker” and Bob
was diagnosed with late onset PTSD
by his general practitioner. He started
the eight-week Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder Program at the Repatriation
General Hospital in April 2016.
"I can now understand why after so
many years I felt like I did and the
program is putting the pieces of the
puzzle back together," he says.
“The expertise of the Ward 17 staff
helps me immensely and I now have a
safe house when things get bad. The
staff understand and know exactly
what is going on with me, which is so
“It’s like I was stuck in a little box but
after the course, which can be quite
intense and tiring, I felt the box got
Listening to stories from other Veterans
throughout the program makes it a lot
easier to ‘let go’, Bob says.
“We are a soundboard to each other –
the old to the young but also the young
to the old – we share a common bond.”
Bob, who has been married for 46
years to wife Sue, says one of the
benefits of the program is that wives
and partners are involved in the
Vietnam Veteran Bob Lewis
speaks with Veteran Mental Health
Rehabilitation Unit Clinical Services
Coordinator Cathie Dal Bello.
SOUTHERN HEALTH NEWS / AUGUST 2016 / 9
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