Armed Forces veterans need to be placed the “front of the line” says veteran's minister Johnny Mercer
The Minister responsible for Armed Forces veterans has admitted that the Government needs more ambition in ensuring former military personnel are given the support they need to adapt to civilian life.
Johnny Mercer has claimed that while there have been major strides in supporting veterans and their families, there needs to be a far greater emphasis placed on boosting the support networks which are available.
The Minister for Defence People and Veterans said his “sole reason” for becoming an MP in 2015 was to kick-starting a better relationship between politics and the Armed Forces
He told The Yorkshire Post: “I was sick and tired of how this country treats veterans. My ambition is to make this country the best country in the world to be an Armed Forces veteran and there is a lot to do.
“There is a huge job of work to do to reset the balance.”
The Office for Veterans Affairs was established two years ago and new legislation was introduced in January by the Government to help ensure military personnel, veterans and their families are not disadvantaged when accessing key public services.
The Armed Forces Bill enshrines in law the Armed Forces Covenant, which involves a pledge from the nation to ensure that those who serve or who have served in the military, and their families, are treated fairly.
However, Mr Mercer stressed that there was much more still to do to improve the current system.
He said: “Setting up the office of veteran affairs is one thing but the scope of work it has to do is another and there is a lot to do in that space. I absolutely recognise that.”
He added that currently some veterans are subject to a “postcode lottery” when it comes to healthcare provision, such as access to mental health and alcohol provision services, which is leaving vulnerable former military personnel struggling to access the help they need.
He highlighted places such as Doncaster and his own constituency in Plymouth as offering a blueprint for offering “serious support”.
“Experience across the country can vary wildly. There are places that take it really seriously and think about it all the time but in other areas you can be disadvantaged because of your service,” he said.
“We are very clear that we are going to correct that disparity and we are going to do that through legislation.
“Incremental gain - it is fundamentally changing what it feels like to be a veteran in this country - are we there yet? No.
“Are there lots of holes that people are going to fall through? Of course there are. But it is a massive complex issue. We have further to go.”
Earlier this year, Mr Mercer announced that he would launch a long-term study into the mental health of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, Mr Mercer, whose 12-year career in the Army included three tours of Afghanistan, said there was still "much more that needs to be done" to support veterans' mental health by “tackling stigma” and improving access to support.
Mr Mercer said: “It is a relentless pursuit - we can never sit there and say the stigma has completely gone.
“If just one person comes forward and thinks they can’t access mental health treatment because of the stigma around it, we have further to go.
“We have made huge strides, we have come a long way, but are we in the promised land of where we want to be? No not yet, and we have a lot of work still to do.
“I totally accept we have further to go and it’s a big job.”
A special Yorkshire Post report includes:
- Armed Forces veteran across the region open up about the struggles of living with post-traumatic stress disorder
- Soldier-turned-politician Dan Jarvis warns that thousands of former military personnel are in danger of “slipping through the net” as they leave the Armed Forces.
- Armed Forces charities, including many that operate across Yorkshire and the Humber, have warned that financial pressures are placing the support they provide under intense strain after vital fundraising has been left in tatters throughout the past year.
- While an urgent review is needed to ensure homeless veterans are not rendered invisible by the way statistics are collected, a leading academic in the North of England has warned.
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