Under the hood of the Nowra Veteran Wellbeing Centre

Jason Grimes, Centre Manager of the Nowra Veteran Wellbeing Centre, on how the centre provides support and services for veterans and families across the local region.

 By Chris Sheedy

 At a glance:

  • US Marine Corps veteran Jason Grimes moved his family to Nowra in 2022 and later became Centre Manager of the Nowra Veteran Wellbeing Centre.
  • The centre operates out of the custom-built facility in Nowra and specialises in veteran wellbeing, claims advocacy and homelessness services.
  • As a drop-in facility, the centre connects veterans with the appropriate services and empowers users to “seek out their own results”.
  • Support and services are also provided across a geographic region that stretches to Goulburn and Yass.

Not long ago, a Vietnam veteran visited the new, purpose-built premises of the Nowra Veteran Wellbeing Centre, which is operated by RSL NSW’s charity partner RSL LifeCare Veteran Services. The veteran was clearly not in a positive frame of mind.

“He was incredibly cranky,” says Jason Grimes, a veteran of the US Marine Corps and manager of the centre. “That’s a nice way of saying it. He had some colourful language.

“But we sat down with him and determined what he was so frustrated about. He just genuinely felt he kept running into brick walls any time he tried to find help. He was hard of hearing, so getting on the telephone and doing those kinds of things wasn’t really an option.”

Jason and his three colleagues, who help cover an area containing 30 RSL sub-Branches, immediately sat down with the veteran to identify his needs. They quickly realised his issues were physical, social and emotional.

The veteran’s frequent walks for exercise had been ended by COVID lockdowns. His veterans’ coffee groups had suffered a similar fate. There was a Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) claim he’d been considering lodging for over three decades, but something always got in the way.

“The next day we brought him back in and sat him down with two physios from a local provider and staff from Invictus Australia,” says Jason. “We also put him in touch with about four different veterans’ coffee groups, including a couple specific to Vietnam veterans, and we got his claims appointment set up.

“And now, he’ll just pop in and have a cup of coffee for no reason, just to say hello. His entire demeanour, everything about him, has changed. He’s brought his wife in, he’s brought his kids in, and he’s brought all these people in to show them that this is the place to seek help.”

Hub and spoke model

Jason was working for RSL LifeCare Veteran Services on the NSW North Coast when he met with Nicki Young, now RSL LifeCare’s Chief Operating Officer.

He asked about opportunities within the organisation. She mentioned the Nowra Veteran Wellbeing Centre that was being built. Soon afterwards, in January 2022, Jason relocated his family.

The new centre is a veteran-centric, purpose-built facility that includes a collection of counselling rooms and meeting areas, as well as a hall that seats 120 people, all around an open floor plan. Every piece of furniture was designed to be moved and rotated easily, so the centre’s purpose can constantly change and adapt.

“Whether someone needs a claims advocate or Open Arms with their peer support, or the local physio or gym, I’ll bring [those providers] into the centre. So at the very next appointment that veteran has the ability to access all of that in one appointment.” – Jason Grimes

And that’s important, says Jason. The centre, like its host RSL LifeCare Veteran Services, specialises in veteran wellbeing, claims advocacy and homelessness services. But it also does so much more across a geographic region that stretches to Goulburn and Yass, reflecting the ‘hub and spoke’ model of services envisioned by RSL NSW.

A veteran’s needs could be anything from seeking driving lessons for their children, to dropping in for a coffee and a chat, to seeking assistance for serious medical issues, to requiring guidance with a claim.

Clients usually have “a laundry list of things they want to accomplish”, says Jason. 

The day after a visit from a veteran, the team at Nowra Veteran Wellbeing Centre will set appointments for that individual.

“Whether someone needs a claims advocate or Open Arms with their peer support, or the local physio or gym, I’ll bring [those providers] into the centre,” he says. “So at the very next appointment that veteran has the ability to access all of that in one appointment.

“We’re quite honest upfront that we aren’t case managers. We are a drop-in centre. Our role is to empower clients to actually go out and seek their own results.”

Passion and purpose

Why did Jason move his family hundreds of kilometres for this role? Because as a veteran, he knows the challenges individuals can face. And he knows how it feels to come out the other side, empowered and enabled.

“I was diagnosed with PTSD,” he recalls. “I had mental health challenges and a similar story to a lot of veterans. I went through a divorce that was very hard, and custody, and I found myself doing a lot of the things that our clients do, which was isolate myself from friends and family.

“It took good friends, some of whom are veterans and some of whom aren’t, to bring me back into the fold and get that bounce back in my life.

“To be able to help people, that’s the reward in itself. I feel like this is my opportunity to pay it forward.”

The Veterans’ Catalogue gives veterans and families access to more than 1,500 providers offering essential support and services. Access the app on the RSL Australia website.

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