Meet Leonie Nowland, National Manager of Open Arms

My name is Leonie Nowland and I am the National Manager of Open Arms.

As the daughter of a veteran, I saw the impact of trauma on my father and experienced the effect this had on my family, especially my mother. I remember not knowing how to help, and feeling afraid and confused by what I was witnessing. My experience with how mental illness can impact individuals and families has instilled a lifelong passion and commitment to improving mental health support for those in need. 

As a student, I was a recipient of the DVA Soldiers’ Children’s Education Scheme. I am incredibly grateful for that support, as it gave me the opportunity to undertake study to better understand mental illness and its impact. As a result, I was able to obtain the qualifications I needed to establish my career in mental health and put me on the path to where I am today at Open Arms. 

Being in a position to help veterans and families who may be in similar situations to what I experienced is one of the reasons I was thrilled to join the Vietnam Veterans’ Counselling Service (VVCS, now Open Arms) in 2007. To be National Manager of Open Arms is the pinnacle of my career. 

I see VVCS as a pivotal example of veterans with lived experience helping other veterans. Mates looking after each other has been a central tenet of the Australian Defence Force, and I am continually impressed by the selflessness and commitment of the veteran community. Now that VVCS has evolved into Open Arms, I am reminded of the commitment and passion of those who founded the service 40 years ago, and we are indebted to them for the perseverance they showed in establishing it.  

As National Manager of Open Arms, my focus is on how we can make the most of the considerable skills and experience of our veteran workforce. This group, for instance the Open Arms Peer and Community team, continue to do a wonderful job working with the veteran and family community, and connect the service we deliver now to the service founded by Vietnam veterans 40 years ago. A priority for me is expanding the lived experience workforce to encompass more programs to support veterans and families who do not necessarily need to see a qualified clinician. 

I will also ensure our service is well equipped to provide treatments and programs that focus on the veteran and family, with an emphasis on military-aware, trauma-informed services that are unique to the veteran community. 

I will ensure we keep veterans at the heart of everything we do. Open Arms is a service developed by veterans for veterans and families and as such has a unique place in mental health services across the world. 

I am incredibly proud to be in this position, and commit myself to supporting those who have served, as well as veterans’ families.