New mental health clinic aims to support veterans

by MedicMall Admin


Australia’s Defence Forces are used to putting themselves in harm’s way on our behalf, but for some, coming home is the hardest part of serving the nation.

Dr Richard Magtengaard knows just how they feel.

After spending 10 years serving as a Commissioned Officer with the Royal Australian Navy, he is now a practising psychiatrist and has recently been appointed as the Director of Military, Veteran and First-Responder Care at Bethesda Health Care's under-construction mental health clinic in Perth.

Dr Magtengaard said he knew what ex-servicemen and women were going through.

“I’ve been down that goat track myself,” he said, candidly.

“I think having a clinician who is a veteran is helpful – you know, if I’m telling a first-time mother what to expect, she’s going to roll her eyes, whereas if that advice is coming from a midwife who’s a mother of three, that’s going to be different.

“People often spend years in the military, with multiple postings, and then when you get back out onto ‘civvy street’, there’s a lot to deal with. Leaving the military to rebuild your life can pose some significant challenges.

“In the civilian world there’s more of a focus on ‘what’s in it for me’, whereas in the military it’s a collective – you have an objective from either the government or command, and everyone has their place in the rank and file, you’re not in competition with each other.”

The new Bethesda Clinic in Cockburn, due to open in September 2022, will have a strong focus on providing bespoke mental health services for Defence personnel, veterans and first-responders. 

Dr Magtengaard will develop and oversee inpatient and day programs designed to help veterans and their families who have sustained physical and/or psychological traumas, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), mood disorders, chronic pain, obsessive compulsive disorder and general adult psychiatry.

“As well as issues like PTSD, veterans have very specific physical healthcare needs,” he said.

“They die younger, they have more injuries, they have more pain disorders. 

“When you’ve spent 10 years running and gunning, there are significant physical co-morbidities. And when your body is a bit busted up, it hurts to move, that’s going to ensure that you put on weight, you’re eating less well.

“It’s important to remember that most veterans, when they leave the military, go on to lead very rewarding professional lives – they’re involved in their communities, their kids schools, they just crack on. 

“But for those who don’t, there is help available.”

Dr Magtengaard added he was delighted to be joining the team at Bethesda.

“Everyone here is really invested in this,” he said.

“The co-design with providers, users and organisations that are going to recommend this service is amazing, and for me it’s a fortunate position to be in, to be able to build this from the ground up. 

“We’re building the plane and we’re going to fly it.”

He said as well as the bricks and mortar clinic, there was a digital aspect to the services on offer to veterans and emergency services personnel.

“We’ve developed a platform called Oqea, which allows us to support vets and responders around the country,” Dr Magtengaard said.

“I’ll actually be seeing six patients today using that platform. 

“With so many people in Australia in lockdown, it’s a great way to see patients, and for them it’s good because they’re in their home environment and it normalises seeking help.

“So as well as the hospital solutions, there’s a tech solution and Bethesda are fully on board with that.”

Bethesda Health Care CEO Dr Neale Fong said he was pleased to welcome Dr Magtengaard to the team.

“His appointment as a medical director at the clinic is an important step to ensure Defence personnel, veterans and their families have access to tailored programs not yet offered in the southern suburbs,” he said.