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RSA Poppy Appeal shines a light on Veterans’ mental health

RSA Poppy Appeal shines a light on Veterans’ mental health

Poppy Appeal vital to RSA’s help of veterans and their families

2018 appeal theme is “not all wounds bleed”

Mike King, Willie Apiata and Lt. Col Melanie Childs join Poppy Ambassadors

The theme for this year’s RSA Poppy Appeal, not all wounds bleed, highlights the fact that mental health injuries are the most common, but least understood, of all wounds suffered by New Zealand servicemen and women.

The appeal, which raises vital funds to support the growing needs of New Zealand’s 41,000 veterans and their families, was officially launched in Auckland today and will culminate in Poppy Day on Friday April 20.

Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries take a heavy toll

RSA National President BJ Clark said the RSA was committed to providing a wide range of help to former members of the military who have served in deployments around the world.

“There’s a growing demand for our support services, including an increasing number with service-induced mental health injuries. These are best described as any persistent psychological difficulty resulting from duties.

“These injuries may occur because of exposure to trauma or stress arising from combat, operational duties in a conflict zone, or other traumatic or serious events such as civil defence emergency or disaster relief,” Mr Clark said.

NZ Defence Force (NZDF) Medical Director Dr Paul Nealis said stress injuries occur along a spectrum, ending with the most severe wound - Post Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI).

“Symptoms of PTSI include reliving the event, including nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts. In addition, sufferers can experience avoiding thoughts, feelings, or situations that serve as reminders of the event, feeling numb or cut off from others, being easily startled and being vigilant for signs of danger,” Dr Nealis said.

Poppy funds - a lifeline for veterans and their families

The proceeds of the Poppy Appeal also help veterans coping with the myriad of conditions brought on by service, for help with transitioning to civilian life or financial aid in times of hardship.

Mr Clark said New Zealand now has 41,000 veterans – the most at any time since the end of the Second World War.

“Many Kiwis would be surprised to learn that nearly three-quarters of those veterans served in overseas deployments since the Vietnam War.

‘This younger generation of veterans have to deal with many of the same life challenges of those earlier generations of service men and women but perhaps without the understanding of the public that they too had experienced some dangerous, stressful and personally distressing situations in their service for New Zealand. This can lead to the kind of mental health challenges that many of our former service men and women are dealing with on a daily basis.”

The Poppy Appeal is a time for New Zealanders to recognise that service and give back to those who have made sacrifices and put their well-being at risk for others.

The RSA national leadership was joined at the launch by dignitaries, RSA member clubs and the Poppy Ambassadors, who will help spread the message of the Appeal.

Ambassadors call on Kiwis to give generously

This year’s Ambassadors are: former New Zealand SAS soldier Willie Apiata VC*; soldier Lt Col Melanie Childs*; former soldier and widow Tina Grant; All Blacks coach Steven Hansen; film-maker Sir Peter Jackson; mental health advocate and comedian Mike King*; and Naval reservist and recording artist Rebecca Nelson. (* New ambassadors for 2018)

Mr Apiata, who attended today’s appeal launch, was awarded the Victoria Cross for New Zealand in 2007 for bravery under fire during the war in Afghanistan.

“I am an Ambassador for the RSA and, as a soldier, I have experienced the wonderful support the RSA provides. Supporting the RSA is as relevant today as when it was established in 1916. Poppy Day and ANZAC Day are not only about Remembrance of the great wars, they are also about the people of our forces who give their today for our tomorrow,” he said.

“The men and women of our forces continue to serve and to defend those who cannot defend themselves abroad and at home. Not only do our forces need the RSA but their families and loved ones need support too. The RSA provides our people with the essential help they need. Your kind donation will help your fellow New Zealanders. On behalf of all of us, thank you.”

Lt Col Melanie Childs is currently the Commanding Officer of the NZ Army’s 2nd Combat Service Support Battalion located at Linton Army Camp. She was named the 2017 New Zealand Defence Force Person of the Year after taking charge of United Nations soldiers and police to lead internally displaced personnel to safety through a battle zone in South Sudan.

“The RSA is there to connect with, and support, all veterans. Many service personnel still have the mind-set that a veteran is World War or Vietnam era, but there are over 30,000 of us that have deployed into operational theatres post-Vietnam. The Poppy Appeal assists the RSA to provide support services to current and former service men and women and their families.

“One example of this is the combined Welfare Hub that has been established at Burnham Military Camp, in Christchurch, my hometown. This hub has become a reality with help from the Poppy Appeal Fund and serves to provide a co-ordinated approach between NZDF and RNZRSA,” she said.

Mike King is a prominent mental health educator and founder of The Key to Life Charitable Trust, which aims to reverse the population trends of depression and suicide by promoting positive social change.

“As someone who has battled mental health and addiction issues, and having spent time visiting with our troops on overseas deployments, I totally get the ‘not all wounds bleed’ message of this year’s Poppy Appeal.

“We all have our issues and it’s okay to ask for help. Thanks to the RSA, our service men and women have somewhere to turn to for advice, support and services.”

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen has a family member currently serving in the military and appreciates the toll that being in service can take on individuals and families.

“Coaching the All Blacks can be a demanding role. There’s always constant pressure because of the scrutiny and the expectation to win. However, it is a huge privilege and one I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to do. Sometimes rugby gets compared to going into battle which I can understand but I realise there’s no comparison to what those who serve in our armed forces have to deal with. I can only imagine what the pressure of being in a hostile and life-threatening environment is like. I have nothing but respect for our men and women in uniform and that’s why I support the RSA and ask all Kiwis to show their support for our current and former service men and women through this year’s Poppy Appeal.”

Tina Grant is a serving soldier, mother and a war widow. Tina’s husband Doug was killed in Afghanistan in August 2011. Through her work with the RSA and for NZDF as Liaison Officer for Families of the Fallen, she recognises the critical importance of caring for families of those in service.

“Caring for those who have served and – importantly – their families, is an important way that we as communities and as a nation can support all those who put themselves in harm’s way in service of New Zealand. Mental health is now a central part of that because of the stress and pain experienced by many service men and women from their time overseas and that usually has a ripple effect on families. You can help them by supporting the RSA Poppy Appeal which will make a real difference for people in our community.”

Naval Reservist and singing sensation Rebecca Nelson will once again be singing the New Zealand anthem at the dawn service at Gallipoli this Anzac Day.

“As a reservist in the Royal New Zealand Navy I regularly travel to the major commemorations which pay tribute to all those who have gone before us, and those who never came home. However, many did come home and they continue to return from deployments all round the world and many of these people – my colleagues and friends – need our help. Every Kiwi can help by wearing our poppy and making a donation during the Poppy Appeal.”

Film maker Sir Peter Jackson, who is a founding member of the RSA National Association and the creative force behind Wellington’s Great War Exhibition, returns as a Poppy Appeal Ambassador.

“I want to commend the RSA's work providing support and care to veterans and their families. This year's theme is ‘not all wounds bleed’, and that has been the reality for many soldiers from the major global conflicts of the last century through to the many deployments of today where Kiwi men and women operate in danger zones around the world. Please give generously on Poppy Day."

96 years strong

The 2018 Poppy Appeal marks the 96th running of the appeal, making it New Zealand’s oldest continuously run appeal.

RSA Chief Executive Jack Steer says the longevity of the appeal reflects New Zealand’s long-held commitment to assisting countries near and far in times of conflict; in peace-time missions and other deployments in aid of others.

“While for most of the 20th Century New Zealanders knew that the Poppy Appeal was a key part of providing support to our former servicemen and women and their dependents, that is not so well understood today. The Poppy Appeal funds can only be used to provide help and support to those veterans and their families. And that help is available regardless of whether they are RSA members or not. All funds collected by clubs locally is also deployed locally, providing care to those servicemen and women and their families living in your communities,” Mr Steer said.

Members of the public can support the appeal by making a donation to a Street Appeal collector on Friday 20 April.

Donations can also be made online at; at any ANZ branch; and via the NZME Pin-a-Poppy Appeal text donations (people can contribute $3 by texting POPPY to 4622).


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