EXCL Defence minister fears employers could be put off hiring veterans over concerns they are ‘doolally’
Unhelpful perceptions that former servicemen and women are “doolally” could be putting off employers from hiring veterans, a defence minister has said.
Tobias Ellwood argued that “decidedly untrue” views that ex-Forces personnel are psychologically damaged could have a detrimental impact on their future prospects.
In an interview with The House magazine, Mr Ellwood, who served in the Army, said the Ministry of Defence must “kill” the attitude and do more to trumpet success stories.
“We suffer somewhat from perhaps a perception that if you’ve served you somehow might be damaged. Studies have proven this,” he said.
“One of my absolute commitments is to try and change the surround. You are less likely to have mental health issues, less likely to go to prison, less likely to commit suicide if you serve than compared with your civilian counterparts. We need to make sure that people know that.”
Citing a 2014 study by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft that nine-tenths of the population believe you might be damaged if you have served in the Forces, he continued: “Now, that’s because of the movies that we watch. It’s because of the success of charities in promoting images and so on.
“But absolutely, the majority, 90 per cent of those who do the transition process that we have are in education or in a job within six months of leaving. And that’s great news, but we need to communicate that further.
“I should add, that of the proportion of people that do require help for no fault of their own, we need to make sure help is available.”
When asked if this view could be detrimental to veterans’ employment prospects, he said: “Completely. You could have this attitude where an employer who’s not familiar with the Armed Forces, they may say, ‘two people, one has served in the Armed Forces, are they going to go doolally on me?’
“We need to kill that attitude because it’s decidedly untrue and unhelpful. We’re doing a lot of work with employers themselves, with businesses and organisations, so they can see the value of that.”
In a letter to the Sunday Times, six former heads of the Armed Forces said Britain should be ashamed of its neglect for war veterans’ mental health, after the paper revealed 42 current and former servicemen and women had taken their lives this year.
Mr Ellwood said: “I’ve invited them in because I think they perhaps aren’t aware of what we’re doing. Let’s keep it in context, very sadly there are around 4,500-5,000 suicides a year.
“You are less likely to commit suicide if you serve in our Armed Forces. But, of course, every suicide is a tragedy and we need to understand the circumstances.”
Mr Ellwood said the MoD are studying soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan to monitor their wellbeing.
“So, we are taking this very, very seriously indeed. We need to understand more the background to these terrible events.
“Around fifty per cent also of suicides – and I think this applies to civilian life as well – are completely unknown. Nobody has mentioned or said anything or shown any indication that something is actually wrong. That is quite tough to puncture through.”
Mr Ellwood also told The House that Britain should step forward on the international stage “more vigorously” – and expressed concerns that the UK could lose its ability to shape the world “if we don’t continue to invest” in defence.
Asked to comment on the modern threats to the UK’s security and the MoD’s priorities, he told The House.
“We need to respond. In our response, it needs to be international. The First World War was a great example; we didn’t do that alone.
“There are certainly things that we can do to bolster our own defence mechanisms.
“A lot of this isn’t going to be in conventional format. It’s going to be on the internet, it’s going to be the traffic lights being hit in the financial areas, it’s going to be a nuclear power station suddenly switching off and not working and affecting the grid. It’s these sorts of things that we’re going to see.
“The way the world is changing in the next ten years is going to be astonishing…
“However, the negative sides of that, of swarm drones and so forth, we do need to think carefully about how we’re able to respond to this very, very changing world.
“Otherwise, we will become ever subservient to the new order.”