Myth that army veterans are all 'mad, bad or sad' must end, say MPs

Posted On: 
25th July 2018

The perception of former soldiers as being damaged by their experience in the army is wrong and could put off those who need help from getting it, MPs have said.

The committee said potential recruits could be put off by fears of mental illness after service
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The Defence Committee said the "vast majority" of troops leave with no mental health issues as a result of their service, while the proportion who face problems is below the population more generally.

Their report adds that too much attention is given to Post-Tramautic Stress Disorder, when depression is "much more common".

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They acknowledge however that while Minstry of Defence figures show 3% of serving personnel were diagnosed with mental health problems last year, it still marks a "significant increase over the previous decade".

Furthermore the figure could in fact be higher, since it only records those who seek help.

The group of MPs also cites academic research which suggests about 10% of veterans who served over the last two decades may eventually develop mental health problems requiring treatment.

Groups such as soldiers in combat roles, as well as reservists, are potentially at a higher risk following deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq.

The committee says more must be done to stop those struggling to adjust to civilian life from "falling through the gaps", while those who are suffering from mental health issues face too long a wait to get the help they need.

Defence Committee chairman, Dr Julian Lewis said MPs would use a fresh inquiry to ensure soldiers are given the level of care they need.

"Contrary to public perception, most Servicemen and women leave with no mental ill-health and, to help veterans, we need to dispel the myth that many suffer psychological harm," the senior Tory said.

"But the MoD must ensure that the few who do develop mental health problems are receiving the level of care promised to them in the Armed Forces Covenant."

Elsewhere the committee urges the MoD to use its forthcoming Veterans Strategy must clarify how the principle of priority treatment for those with service-related illnesses in the health service is provided.

They say it has been "inconsistently provided", with "palpable confusion" leading to the perception that the NHS is failing veterans, and urge the MoD to get a grip on mental health problems across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Committee member Ruth Smeeth said: "Effective support during transition, as you leave the military, is essential to ensure that our service personnel experience a positive move into civilian life without any unnecessary stress.

"If they are already receiving support for mental health issues while serving, they must receive what they need as they move into NHS care. 

"Yet, clearly, some leavers are falling through the gaps and the MoD needs to do much better in working with health economies across the UK to stop this from happening."