Madeleine Moon MP: Veterans must be supported as soon as they leave the military to help them adjust to civilian life successfully
We must be aware that thousands of ex-service personnel may be suffering alone with mental health problems and risks of increased violent behaviour, says Madeleine Moon MP.
On several occasions I have had the pleasure of using debates to highlight innovative work with offenders at HMP Parc in my constituency. Given the well-publicised problems of the prison system at the moment, I am probably one of the few MPs to be in that position.
However, like many MPs, I have dealt with numerous cases of veterans who have hit hard times; many of them suffering with undiagnosed mental health problems which in turn leads to impossible strain being put on their personal relationships, self-medication with alcohol, financial problems and housing problems. Often, it is not the veteran who gets in touch, but concerned family and friends. They are not good at asking for help, they are used to problem solving and so need training to accept help and to seek help. Tragically for some, these complex problems lead to risky behaviour which results in a prison sentence. It is too often the case of missed opportunities to equip service leavers properly for life outside the forces, leaving the prison system to pick up the pieces.
My debate today seeks to draw attention to the work at HMP Parc of the Endeavour Unit, the UK’s first ex-military specialist unit. The role of the unit is to prepare prisoners to successfully re-join society. Considerable thought went into establishing it; 160 Brigade visited Parc to discuss the idea beforehand and great efforts have been made to build links with partner organisations. Many of them work with veterans forming a steering group and provide a comprehensive programme addressing everything from employment to housing.
It isn’t just the practical aspects of civilian life that are addressed. Emphasis is put on tackling relationship issues, the lack of self-respect and confidence. Often there is a sense of resentment from the family that the person was put on a pedestal for their involvement in the military and has let everyone down by their actions. They have gone from hero to zero.
Individuals I spoke to during a visit to the Unit in July valued living there. There was a feeling of safety, cells were left open, no thefts and a sense of working together to overcome problems. Comradeship is key for many to making progress; strengthening resolve to face the reasons for their offending, the tensions and fractures within their families.
The Unit has already seen results. On release, several offenders have found employment and accommodation. The sadness is that, what it and its partners are doing, is exactly the kind of wraparound service that is needed at the point of transition. They are essentially doing the work of others.
The rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for veterans who have seen active service is around 7%, and it has a tendency to strike years after the initial trauma. As troops have returned home from combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years, we must be aware that thousands of these ex-service personnel may be suffering alone with mental health problems and risks of increased violent behaviour. We have a responsibility to ensure enough is being done to diagnose, support and treat our veterans as soon as they leave the military to help them adjust to civilian life successfully.
Madeleine Moon is Labour MP for Bridgend.
PoliticsHome member, Veterans Aid have responded to this article. Hugh Milroy, CEO Veterans Aid said " Service personnel are ‘a part of society’ – not apart from it. To single them out as a cohort who have particular difficulties leaving one job for another is to do them an injustice." You can read the full response here.