I would like to open by deeply thanking the leadership of the Veterans Institute for the warm and open hospitality that was extended to me during my visit to there. As you recall, on my way to Doorn, I missed my stop at Driebergen-Zeist leading to a one hour delay. Louis Hellewegen waited and received me with empathetic warmth upon my arrival. To catch you up on Louis Hellewegen, he is the facility manager of the Veterans Institute. He also happens to be a veteran of the peace mission in the Lebanon.
The Veterans institute is set in a very ideal area which no doubt encourages therapeutic healing. The only other significant landmark there are the barracks of a Marines Battalion. Founded in the year 2000, the Netherlands Veterans Institute (VI) has two aims. The first one is to promote social recognition for the efforts made by armed forces veterans on behalf of the Dutch state and Dutch society. It also aims to promote support and optimize mental and physical care for veterans and their families. Further, it promotes scientific research on subjects that are relevant to veterans’ care and veterans’ policy. Published as a law in 2012, the Veterans law indicates that the veteran care is the responsibility of the government. It was purposed to create an integrated, proactive and preventive veterans policy. That the timely and adequate care be provided for veterans and next of kin of the veterans not on the moment in time but as these problems manifest. This support include materiel support, social support and mental health care, and finding a job.
The building the Veterans Institute resides in is huge and sits on quite an enviable acreage. The building is owned by a foundation that provides care for veterans and other uniformed personnel and it also houses the Veterans Platform, which is the umbrella body of all major veterans associations. The Veterans Institute itself has a 24 hours operational call center (the veterans office), which also serves as the main entrance to veterans care, provided for by a network of military mental health services and private caregivers (National Health care System for Veterans). The Veterans Institute also has a Centre for Research and Expertise and a branch for communications and supporting events.
The heart of the building was a large meeting facility for veterans and veterans’ activities, with cafeteria and sitting, reading and chilling. Also on the ground floor there are art and mediation spaces, while the first and second floor included boarding and lodging amenities. The building also has an arena for outdoor social events, short and long term housing for veterans and families of veterans who require close contact care. While I was there, there was veterans’ cohort which was just winding up a weekend long get together. It was wonderful to watch them. The fellowship of veterans is an absolute shot in the arm every time. The Veterans Institute is the nerve center of all things concerning recognition, appreciation, support and care for veterans in the Netherlands. I had my ears peeled to the numerous similarities the Dutch military and veterans as well have in common with the Kenya Defense Forces. The idea that because of how the wars are organized nowadays, there are war veterans as young as 20 years old. The word veteran in both definition and practice is no longer contained in elder and middle aged men and women who once served in the military. Today, veterans of war are also below 30 years old and some of them are still in active service. Their psychological, social and physical needs are just as mature, if not more because of their lifespan developmental tasks such as coupling and parenthood. We spoke about how the care for both psychological, social and physical war wounds war wounds require to evolve to meet the needs of these men and women. In a subsequent blog, I will tell you more about the Veterans Platform and how it closely works together with the Veterans Office (Veteranenloket) in an evolutionary approach to ensure care for veterans at the grassroots level in all of the Netherlands. The Veteranenloket is for immediate help and is accessible outside office hours via email and phone. It is the main entrance to existing care and services to Dutch veterans, Dutch military war and military service victims and their families.
With the help of the Veterans Institute every last Saturday of June since 2005 the National Committee Veterans Day organizes the Dutch National Veterans Day. It takes place in The Hague, where government and parliament reside. It is worth noting that many Dutch cities organize local events for veterans in their communities.
If you recall from the blog about General Ted Meines (https://thetruenorth.co.ke/2017/10/29/lieutenant-general-ted-meines-the-father-of-the-dutch-veterans-affairs-policy/) funding was a key element which realized the vision of veteran care. The Veteran Institute is totally funded by the Ministry of Defense for all its activities in veterans care and salaries for staff. It also has some additional from the Dutch people who donate to it as well as civilian companies and institutions. All these services are made possible once the armed forces veteran registers with the Veterans Institute. A veteran even dishonorably discharged is treated as a veteran. In addition to access to all the services under the Veterans Institute and its Veterans Office, the veteran as well receives free subscription to Checkpoint (a veteran’s monthly magazine), up to four free train tickets per year to visit veterans events and commemorations and discounts (on insurances, holiday travel and museum visits), information about reunion facilities, commemorations, medal awards, addresses of veterans organizations and pension claims.
Stories of Veterans is one of the projects I found to be worthwhile. What is the Kenyan story of the war we are fighting? In this particular project, the Veterans’ Institute organizes veterans’ visits to primary and secondary schools and share their experiences with the students. The Veterans with a Mission project as well caught my attention. It is a project where veterans return to their former areas of deployment and organize projects on site in the fields of humanitarian support or development assistance. What I admire most is the tailoring to care within the context of scientific behavioral facts. A case in point is the recognition that psychological war wounds can extend or manifest many years after leaving service and that spouses and children are affected. If you recall from this blog (https://thetruenorth.co.ke/2017/11/06/taking-care-of-the-soldiers-who-fight-our-wars-how-the-netherlands-does-it/) we discussed how proper accounting for personnel and accurate record keeping was essential during service in-order to guide care to veterans post military.
I went round most of the complex and spoke to the staff about what they did and how the reception to the services were. What they were still working on to refine, what the challenges were and their successes. There is no denial of the effects of war and peace missions on soldiers, veterans, families and society. This is what frustrates me about the Kenyan narrative. In my follow-up blog, I will discuss the Veterans Law more and in-addition, the actual care in form of facilities and personnel that execute the spirit of the Veterans Law.
The veterans institute presentation film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJpAHwBOsQ8&t=506s
Veteransday parade. About 3000 veterans parade in front of the King of the Netherlands. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PfCN86qbe8