Veterans Transition Network – Transition Skills Course

The Veterans Transition Network delivers group counselling designed specifically for Veterans to overcome trauma, improve mental health and well-being, strengthen families, stabilize employment, and aid the transition from service to civilian life.

“Veterans come into our programs struggling with PTSD, anxiety and depression. They’re often experiencing significant difficulty adjusting to life outside the military,” said Oliver Thorne, CEO of Veterans Transition Network (VTN). “Our aim is to build the trust relationship that allows Veterans to engage with counselling, provide them with meaningful support, and normalize seeking mental health services.”

According to Thorne, many Veterans and serving members won’t seek counselling through typical Forces channels as they don’t want mental health issues on their records. Compounding this is the need for specialized counselling specifically for Veterans, something most clinicians aren’t trained in. VTN helps fill the gap with its national network of 1,800+ program graduates, peer support teams, and clinicians who look out for other Veterans in distress and encourage them into counselling.

From academic niche to national impact

Starting in the 1990s as a counselling program developed by a team of psychologists and a medical doctor at the University of British Columbia, Veterans Transition Network was launched as a standalone charity in 2012 and, thanks to the support of True Patriot Love and donors like you, now has a presence in all 10 provinces and offers programs in English and French. Canadian Armed Forces, RCMP Veterans and active members, male and female, of all ages, ranks and service histories can participate.

VTN’s groundbreaking model is its Veterans Transition Program: two 5-day retreat courses that, combined, provide 100 hours of group counselling for each Veteran or roughly the equivalent of two years of one-on-one counselling.

Level 1, the Transition Skills Course, uses group experience to address post-military issues such as operational stress injuries, PTSD, depression and anxiety. It also develops practical skills for combating isolation, emotional dysregulation, and improving family relationships. The retreat experience allows this to happen in a structured and safe environment.

Level 1 graduates have the option to progress to Level 2, the Therapeutic Enactment Course, a five-day retreat that builds on the work of Level 1 and uses tools like action-based exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring to help them process difficult emotions, events or trauma, all within a small, supportive group of peers, peer support workers and clinicians.

“Nothing about us without us”

The five-day group counselling model VTN created reflects the military experience, where members train, live and serve together, working in small teams to overcome difficult challenges. The group program is designed to replicate this experience and build a team of Veterans who help one another overcome the challenges they face as a result of service.

“In order for Veterans to trust and engage with our services we must show them that we have a real understanding of their experience, culture and the unique challenges they face. So, we have the input of Veterans at every level of our organization and programs. The principle of ‘Nothing about us, without us’ is essential to our model of soldiers helping soldiers.”

“Prior to attending, one of my issues was understanding what was happening to my mind and why – it was extremely stressful and confusing, and played a part in increasing my symptoms, especially panic attacks and deeper depression. This course enabled me to have a better understanding as to how my brain has been affected by PTSD. I now look forward to implementing what I’ve learned along with maintaining the increased positive outlook I’ve obtained.” – Transition Skills Course participant

Nunquam unus, Never alone

“Our clinicians conservatively estimate that four people, like children or spouses, are indirectly helped alongside each veteran,” said Thorne. “Our programs help Veterans before their problems escalate to crisis. Our motto is Nunquam Unus, Never Alone.”

Thanks to the support of the Bell True Patriot Love Fund – and donors like you – 15 Veterans and serving members in Alberta and Quebec were able to participate in the five-day Level I Transition Skills Course for free, including their travel and accommodation expenses. Thank you!