‘The Hidden Wounds of War’: mental health of Ukraine’s veterans

‘The Hidden Wounds of War’ was the title of a conference organised in May in Lithuania by the Head of the Sakharov Centre in Kaunas (and BEARR patron) Professor Robert van Voren. Its theme was how to provide better care for the mental health of veterans in Ukraine: up to a million men and women have enlisted in the armed forces and it is estimated that around 100,000 or more will need professional support after they are discharged.

The conference brought together specialists from Europe and North America, as well as Ukrainian professionals and volunteers and representatives of international aid organisations. It sought to provide an overview of state-of-the-art rehabilitation programmes and initiatives, explore avenues of collaboration and coordination, and garner support for this crucial long-term effort to help Ukraine deal with the disastrous consequences of this war.

Unless a consecutive chain of services is developed that involves all parties, but also all stakeholders, Ukraine will be facing a very dark period, even after winning this war. In order to be able to deal with the future tsunami of persons seeking help, several preconditions will have to be met:

· On the local level small veteran centres need to be set up that provide follow up rehabilitation services, family counselling and a support network where a veteran can find a “second home”;

· A sound methodology needs to be developed that fits Ukrainian reality, not only socio-culturally but also financially. In short, a Ukrainian model needs to be developed;

· Staff will need to be trained to provide the necessary support. This will mean training large numbers of professionals and teaching them to work in multidisciplinary teams, and to involve at all level persons with lived experience, veterans themselves. In addition a network of volunteers needs to be set up, but they too need to be trained.

All three targets are the focus of the “Veteran Mental Health Centre of Excellence (VMHCE)” a joint initiative of FGIP, King’s College in London and the Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv. This Centre will have, in addition to research and training capabilities, a clinical base that will provide both specialised veteran mental health services and on-the-job training. An international scientific advisory council will oversee the quality of services rendered.

A report will be published in the summer. Further details here.

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