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Veteran study finds poor health leads to loneliness.

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Media Release


The Hon Bruce Scott MP

Minister for Veterans' Affairs

Federal Member for Maranoa




30 November 1998


Veteran Study Finds Poor Health Leads to Loneliness


Poor health is the main reason older veterans are socially isolated, the Min ister for Veterans’ Affairs, Bruce Scott said today.

The Minister was commenting on the first major Australian report on social isolation in the veteran community, Improving Social Networks, that was released today.

"The report found men are more likely than women to be socially isolated and war-related trauma was identified as a significant isolating factor for Vietnam and younger veterans,"

Mr Scott said.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) commissioned the Lincoln Gerontology Centre at La Trobe University to conduct a national study into the causes and outcomes of social isolation amongst veterans, war widows and their carers. This followed the 1994 Baume report A Fair Go , which identified social isolation as a priority concern for the veteran community.

Limited mobility, due to ill health, proved to be the major factor in social isolation among older veterans and war widows. Personal security, particularly at night, was an additional constraint on war widows.

Carers became isolated because of their commitment to looking after their spouses and frequently the effects of these demands on their time and emotions continue well into widowhood.

The study found physical and mental health, social support, transport, and information were the four main factors that enhance social networks among aging veterans. Comparisons with other Australian studies indicate that the findings in this report should apply equally to the wider community.

About 10 per cent of respondents, representing 34,000 of the veteran population, were identified as being socially isolated and a further 41,000 (12 per cent) were at risk of becoming isolated.

Other findings included:

  • Vietnam and younger veterans were 20 per cent more likely to be isolated than other veterans, and a further eigh t per cent were at risk of becoming isolated;
  • 10 per cent of World War II veterans were socially isolated and 14 per cent at risk of becoming isolated;
  • five per cent of war widows were isolated and a further eight per cent at risk of becoming isolated. However, they were 20 per cent more likely to report loneliness, boredom, or unhappiness.

This research supports a number of Federal Government initiatives which are already in place and which address the physical and mental health aspects of social isolat ion.

The Department’s Day Clubs promote social contact for the aged, the isolated and people with disabilities by providing physical, mental and social activities of interest to their members. Similarly the Joint Venture Scheme and Community Care Seeding Grants aim at sustaining independent living for veterans and war widows.

The Never Too Late! programme set up in 1995, encourages veterans to participate in modified sport and recreational activities promoting good health and safe, moderate physical activities for the veteran community. The Victoria Council on Fitness and General Health (VICFIT) pilot walking programme was also funded by a DVA grant.

Self Protection for Veterans , currently being trialed in Tasmania, aims to increase feelings of safety within the home and community by providing veterans with the necessary skills to maintain contacts within their community.

"But the most fundamental change in providing access to health care for veterans is the extension of the Gold Card. From 1 January 1999 the Gold Card will be extended to an estimated 50,000 veterans who served in Australia’s Defence Force and mariners who served in Australia’s Merchant Navy during World War II, who are now aged 70 years and over, with qualifying service from that conflict," Mr Scott said.

"The Gold Card provides approximately 300,000 veterans with health services ranging from access to public and private hospital care, choice of doctor and a wide range of other specialist treatment," Mr Scott said.

"This research provides the Department with valuable information on which to base effective programmes that will alleviate social isolation in the veteran community," Mr Scott said.

Media contact: Michael Priebe, phone - (02) 6277 7820 or mobile - 0418 482 514