By Jackie Keogh / The Southern Star
Crosshaven’s Audra Larkin has been appointed as the first female veteran support officer for the Irish Defence Forces’ charity ONE.
‘There has been an increase in the number of veterans who present with post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health, homelessness and family breakdown,’ Audra told The Southern Star, ‘so there are a lot of things that combine to create the perfect storm.’
As someone who grew up in Camden Fort Meagher, having lived there with her family in the 70s up to the 80s, before moving to married quarters in Cork, it would be difficult to find someone more steeped in military history than Audra. ‘The military,’ said Audra, ‘has been my life, and is my life. I have experiences in all forms of the military. I’ve been the person at home while the loved one was overseas, and I have also been the child with the father overseas. ‘My whole life has been immersed in the military, and sometimes I say I was born and grew up in the Defence Forces.’
Her father, Denis Daly, was a sergeant with the first field transport company, while her husband Denis previously served with the 12th [Infantry] battalion in Clonmel. Audra’s uncles have also served in various ranks and roles within the Irish Defence Forces, both at home and overseas. Audra, herself, served as a non-commissioned officer with the 1st field medical company in Collins Barracks in Cork for almost 12 years. She has a long association with the charity, too. In 2021, she was elected chairperson of ONE’s new branch in Clonmel. It was a branch that she helped to establish and boasts the charity’s first all-female elected committee.
For a time, Audra worked outside of the military in the area of addiction services, having a primary degree as a psychology major from DCU, and a postgrad qualification in science from Atlantic Technology University. For more than 20 years, Audra worked in community addiction services, but she also brings to her new role a sensitivity and understanding as a published author and poet.
In offering support for Defence Forces veterans, Audra was quick to point out that 99% of veterans transition into the civilian world without issues, but there is that small population of veterans who struggle and those are the people with whom she works.
‘The ultimate goal,’ she said, ‘is the accessing of permanent accommodation, improving mental health, and preventing future homelessness.’ The charity, Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann, which translates as the organisation of national ex-service personnel, is expanding all the time. There are currently four residential homes with 51 beds in Cobh, Athlone, Letterkenny and Dublin, but a fifth is being developed for Cork, which will bring bed numbers to 57. In fact, the approved housing body has plans for further homes to address the increasing challenge of homelessness among veterans.
‘A lot of the homes,’ said Audra, ‘will service older veterans but the demographic of veterans is hanging a lot and veterans are younger and younger when they leave the Defence Forces.’ In addition to the residential homes, ONE has developed a nationwide network of 38 branches, and 15 veteran support centres, which assist veterans in their transition back to civilian life. ONE is an approved housing body, as well as being a sustainable energy community. In addition to board and lodging, it provides support, comradeship, and advocacy, as well as remembering deceased or retired service personnel.
‘It’s important to acknowledge the amazing work that has been done by the charity since it was formed in 1951,’ said Audra, ‘including the building of the first residential home in Dublin since 1994.’ Previously there were just two veteran support officers in the country, one in Dublin and one in the West. Audra’s appointment is a first – being the first female officer appointed to the role – but also a first for the Cork and Kerry region. Ireland’s first female veteran support officer will be responsible for the Cork and Kerry region and provide a critical service in its veteran homes and support centres. ‘Veterans,’ she said, ‘share a common language so when the post came up, I knew it was the right move for me.’ The family’s military careers may, however, end with Audra because she said their four children are unlikely to enlist because they find the tech industry too alluring.
For more see: www.ONE-Veterans.Org