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Veterans falling victim to plague of process 

Dr Hugh Milroy, CEO of Veterans Aid | Veterans Aid

7 min read Partner content

Despite lots of high-profile Government initiatives and so-called collaboration within the sector there is clear evidence that veterans are still being failed - writes CEO of Veterans Aid, Dr Hugh Milroy.  

There's a lot going on in the veterans' world, but big initiatives often hide small failures and we're seeing a growing number of them at Veterans Aid. That's not surprising, because our clients are those in crisis; the 'awkward' ones, whose problems don't fit the benevolence template. These men and women are casualties of a plague of process that has led to a famine of kindness.

Because they don't tick the right boxes, they become invisible - ignored or passed on from agency to agency to become someone else's problem. As a veteran myself I find that unconscionable and would like to highlight some of the many who find their way in desperation to Veterans Aid. (This is not about promoting Veterans Aid but about allowing those who are seemingly invisible and suffering from a lack of humanity, to be heard).

Recently, we were asked to help a former Warrant Officer who is recovering from cancer. She  had been unable to work and, as a consequence, had significant rent arrears. She and her school-age daughter were to be evicted the next morning. A litany of broken promises from military charities and unreturned calls from areas of the veteran ‘support system’ had done nothing to stop the process.  We were unable to halt the eviction but managed to arrange for decent housing the following day.  She was understandably bewildered and outraged at her treatment.      

Another client, Paul, a former Paratrooper in receipt of  a War Pension, was told that his application for help from a very large military charity could not proceed because he couldn’t produce evidence of his service.  (You can’t get a War Pension unless you  have served!) After successfully completing a detox and rehab program, which we had funded, we found him a flat and helped him to move in. Paul then approached a large benevolent charity for a cooker and fridge. After much prevaricating they told him that the items were out of stock with their usual supplier, and they would look into alternatives. Two weeks later nothing had materialised, and he was told that the person supposedly running his 'case' had gone on holiday. Paul, who has found the whole process very stressful, said:

“The system isn’t fit for purpose and very far from what is portrayed. I was made to feel that I was begging. I was an inconvenience. Chasing the system was a nightmare. If it wasn’t for Veterans Aid, I’d still be in a total mess. Apart from them, no one seems to care. You are just a case number. The big charities should hang their heads in shame.  When you approach them, you find out that care for veterans is almost non-existent. Veterans Aid is fit for purpose and the others need to acknowledge their leadership and worth.  There is no kindness or humanity when it comes to dealing with the big boys. They take away your pride and replace it with stigma”.

And then there was the service spouse - in hiding and registered with an agency for domestic abuse. The appeal for help, by this traumatised woman, was refused by a major benevolent charity  “unless she provided evidence of the abuse!”  

Once again, process trumped compassion and Veterans Aid was left to pick up the pieces. The distress caused by the processes involved,  and the off-loading between charities and other organisations was harmful.  

These are her words:   

“I spoke to VA over the weekend. They have very kindly confirmed that they will cover the cost of the accommodation and fuel for my training course.  I’m still a bit in shock if I’m being honest. I really did think after the constant blocks, dead ends, and aggressive, highly invasive, and abusive responses I’ve had from the major service charities, that I’d have to cancel it, which was devastating. Knowing I can access this safe exit and have a complete fresh start in every area of life again hasn’t quite sunk in yet.  Words don’t really cover the gratitude I have for you and the ladies at Veterans Aid, but thank you for listening to me, hearing me, and helping me get over these blocks and hurdles that seemed permanent just a few days ago.  Your help has meant I can access all the basics again and no longer be subjected to the abusive systems and poverty traps that have blocked me for such a very long time.   With huge thanks, 'A'."

This and many other interventions by Veterans Aid have come about because large, mainstream charities and organisations who receive lots of money for their stated role of helping vulnerable veterans are playing the process card and passing the buck under the pitiful guise of 'collaboration'.

I'm not suggesting a free-for-all in which veterans’ bona fides are not checked, but I am appealing for an end to the current trend of digitisation and flow-chart process that is inhumane and ineffective in the face of complexity. Kindness must prevail over process for those veterans who need it most.  

Not long ago we put a young veteran into immediate detox, which cost many thousands of pounds, and probably saved her life. Her case was desperate. When we retrospectively reached out to an affluent service charity for a contribution it was turned down - because we hadn't obtained their prior permission.  As I write - ironically on International Women’s Day - this girl is drug/alcohol free and has just been offered a university place to do nursing. Would this have happened if we hadn’t bucked the process?  

The system in place for veterans seems very arbitrary, and woe betide the applicant if s/he  doesn't  fit the criteria on the template that is being applied.  This is particularly true for the rough sleepers who come to our door. Thank goodness for the DWP Armed Forces champions who always go the extra-mile for our veterans.   

Veterans are people; men and women who seek charitable support only as a last resort. Most are ground down mentally and physically when they reach out for help. They hear the promises of care for life, read about the identity badges and travel passes that they can apply for, learn about one-stop-shop initiatives that will make getting support faster and easier -  and then they come up against the Kafkaesque realities of ‘process’.  

Call centres that lack humanity direct them down labyrinthine pathways that frustrate, disappoint, delay, and compound their problems. Instead of nipping adversity in the bud, at the point need, these processes actually serve to distance veterans from critical help.     

Many years ago, our Trustees took the decision to ensure we had enough diverse unrestricted income streams to operate in an agile and effective manner with minimal bureaucracy. Thank goodness we did so because this approach has saved lives.  And yet, there are large benevolent organisations trying to impose processes on us regardless of their efficacy, threatening to withdraw their support for veterans who are already in our care unless we embrace their ineffective systems. Our successes vindicate our approach. Pressuring us to adopt procedures  that continually lead to failure is beyond distasteful; it is bullying and disenfranchisement on an unacceptable scale.

Far from being facilitators, these processes are often obstacles to the delivery of timely, practical support. Our daily experience confirms that they delay the interventions that put food on tables, find employment, provide accommodation, tackle addiction, reunite families, end social isolation, address mental/physical health problems, or pay the rent. 

After 30 years' experience of dealing effectively with adversity, I have concluded that much of what purports to be about essential routes and mechanisms is no more than a version of  'My way or the highway' - a bullish reluctance to relinquish power and control. It's almost a universal truth that early intervention is the best way of avoiding downward spirals of adversity, yet the sector is riddled with mechanisms  that prevent it. The cost in terms of human misery is immense and I shudder to think how much money has been wasted shoring up process-constipated and ineffective systems.

The  accumulation of research grows, and the processes proliferate; the game changing campaigns grab the headlines and the glossy brochures burgeon, but like hollow recruiting posters that tell one story and disguise another, veterans are being failed - and at a time when the elephant filling the room is poverty, this is unacceptable. 


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