Call for radical shake-up of support for Armed Forces veterans to help the mental health of thousands of former personnel

Military veterans are facing up to a mounting mental health crisis with key services placed under immense pressure as a Minister has admitted that the Government has been “bailed out” by charities to support many former Armed Forces personnel.

The challenges of readjusting to civilian life has placed many veterans at risk of struggling with psychological issues, as they have been unable to come to terms with the traumas they have experienced in recent conflicts during their service careers.

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Academics in Yorkshire have called for a radical shake-up of support for former personnel to help ensure thousands of veterans are not placed at risk of mental health problems and resorting to alcohol and substance abuse.

An library image of a British Army officer in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

However, charities involved in providing support for veterans have revealed a stark financial situation as fundraising has been dramatically affected during the coronavirus crisis.

The Confederation of Service Charities (Cobseo), which represents 900 charities supporting service personnel and veterans, confirmed to The Yorkshire Post that by this month (MARCH), the sector will have seen an estimated reduction of £250m since the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

Meanwhile, requests for mental health and loneliness support across the sector have increased by 70 per cent since the start of the first lockdown, and the number of veterans pushed into poverty has increased by 55 per cent.

Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer, who served in the military for 12 years, told The Yorkshire Post: “If we’re ever going to meet the challenge, we need to go beyond just talking a good game when it comes to looking after our people and our families.

Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer, who served in the military for 12 years, told The Yorkshire Post: “If we’re ever going to meet the challenge, we need to go beyond just talking a good game when it comes to looking after our people and our families.

“I potentially recognise the concerns that people have and we have been on this trajectory for a while, where certainly from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, demand for services has quite quickly begun to increase.

“Charities have kind of bailed out the Government when it comes to looking after veterans for many years now - certainly my cohort of my generation. The fundamental responsibility to our veterans comes from the State and from the Government.

“What we are on now is a journey towards rebalancing it so that the care that we owe our veterans and our service personnel is ensured, not delivered by, but ensured by the State.”

A report from the University of York has highlighted the need for the Government to invest in a new support model, to deliver support to war veterans when they most need it.

Pictured, Professor Charlie Lloyd, from the University of York, who is lead author of the first UK study to focus on the experience of families of veterans with substance use problems.

The study, in collaboration with Adfam, the national charity tackling the effects of alcohol, drug use or gambling and funded by the Forces in Mind Trust, is the first UK study to focus on the experience of families of veterans with substance use problems.

It found that the families of former personnel with substance use problems are unlikely to seek or be offered help, even if the veteran engages with support.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed 17,790 former military personnel received treatment from the NHS’s veteran mental health services last year - an increase of 30.8 per cent from 2015.

However, there is no reliable system in place to track suicides among the nation’s veterans despite evidence that thousands are struggling with serious mental health problems, including Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Pictured, military veteran and the Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis said devolved investment and increased powers at a local level could be used to aid the “vital” point of transition of military personnel who face a “brave new world” when entering civilian life.

Lead author of the study, Professor Charlie Lloyd, from the University of York, said: “Our study has shown how veterans’ families can be profoundly affected by their loved ones’ drinking and drug problems. Yet they are very unlikely to be offered any help.”

Professor Lloyd has called on the Government to back a support model to provide proper support to neglected families “for the first time”.

Former military veteran and the Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis said devolved investment and increased powers at a local level could be used to aid the “vital” point of transition of military personnel who face a “brave new world” when entering civilian life.

Mr Jarvis, who is also the Labour MP for Barnsley Central, told The Yorkshire Post: “There are specific issues relating to people who have served and their families that still require further support from the Government.

“Hopefully this pricks the consciousness of national government because they have got an important role to play.

“It’s incredibly important at a local level that support is there. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.”

This week Rishi Sunak pledged £10m to the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust to support military veterans with mental health problems in the Budget.

In the past, the Treasury has distributed cash for supporting veterans with mental health problems directly to charities but this year the money will go to the trust set up by the Ministry of Defence specifically to look after the needs of former service personnel.

The Government provided £10 million for veterans with mental health needs in both the 2020 and 2018 Budgets.

Rishi Sunak said: "We value hugely the sacrifices made by so many men and women in the Armed Forces.

"Supporting veterans with mental health needs is a crucial part of repaying the huge debt we all owe them, ensuring that veterans get the support they deserve."

A special Yorkshire Post report includes:

- Armed Forces veteran across the region open up about the struggles of living with post-traumatic stress disorder.

- In an exclusive interview 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.

- 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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