Veterans Aid respond to Madeleine Moon MP
It is vital that we must not assign all the ills of veterans’ lives to the military - whatever happened to personal responsibility? Says Hugh Milroy, CEO, Veterans Aid.
While I commend MP Madeleine Moon for her sterling work in supporting the military veteran community I have some observations. I have been involved with my frontline veteran organisation for some 24 years and, as a corollary, have a fairly solid grasp of the problems that we are seeing from all parts of the country. However, I am disappointed yet again to hear the cry that more needs to be done for those leaving the armed forces. As Lord Ashcroft has found, in his numerous reports, there is a bewildering number of services for veterans who are struggling and, in my view, we are probably the best served cohort in this country - by far. The service charity world is so vast that I believe that if you are in crisis in this country today you are singularly lucky to be a veteran. And that service, for the most part, applies to the families as well who can contact the RBL or SSAFA or any of the great service Benevolent Funds for help. I would draw particular attention to the singularly comprehensive Veterans Gateway. This was created in response to Lord Ashcroft’s findings and leads, for example, directly to the new NHS Transition, Intervention and Liaison (TIL) mental health service for veterans and those leaving the armed forces.
Outflow from the trained and untrained UK Regular Forces was 15,050 in the 12 months to 31 March 2017. This number comprises men and women who have served for decades . . . and others who have served for just a day. ‘Long service’ veterans are generally robust, capable individuals – extremely ‘short-service’ veterans have not had time to become institutionalised. Of those in between, only a percentage have served in the teeth arms and/or experienced combat. 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.
While it may be an inconvenient truth, my overwhelming observation over the past 24 years is that poverty is the biggest underlying problem. I have seen thousands of clients whose average ages are between late-30s to mid-40s. Their average service was a few years and in their late teens to early-20s. But there are some 14 million people living in poverty in the UK - some of them are veterans. I cannot understand why, when we come to talk about veterans, everyone seems to be ignoring the context which is more often than not the real issue. More importantly, when it comes to transition I have yet to meet any other occupational group that has such a support system in place.
Madeleine Moon MP urges us to “support our veterans as soon as they leave the military, to help them adjust to civilian life successfully.” As a veteran myself I am prompted to ask why she feels why this ‘issue’ (sic) is significant enough to warrant a Westminster Hall debate. And as a veteran who has gone to war for his country I’ve never been asked for my views about any veteran matter. This leaves me greatly concerned about a tyranny of the minority. Even worse is that it once again affirms the ‘mad, bad and sad’ view of the veteran community, something that the Defence Select Committee has said must stop.
Ms Moon also says “We must be aware that thousands of ex-service personnel may be suffering alone with mental health problems and risks of increased violent behavior – and frankly, I am wondering why, because this isn’t my experience of veterans, how she can suggest that this is the case?
Those who actually record these things (i.e. the MOD and NHS) reveal that the number of UK AF personnel assessed with a mental disorder is, at 3.1%, lower than that of the general population (i.e. 4.8%). (The number and rate of mental disorder among UK Armed Forces personnel assessed at MOD Specialist Mental Health Services increased over time from 1.8% in 2007/08 to 3.2% in 2015/16 and has since remained around this level at 3.1 % in the latest year, 2017/18 (this represents approximately 3 in 100 personnel). Findings of significantly higher presentations in certain demographic groups remained broadly similar throughout the last eleven years. The PTSD rate remains low at 0.2%, which represents 2 in 1,000 personnel assessed with the disorder in 2017/18. (Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/717033/20180621_Mental_Health_Annual_Report_17-18_O.pdf )
I am sure that very worthy work is being done at HMP Parc’s Endeavour Unit, in Ms Moon’s constituency, but I question whether her experiences of it should be extrapolated to the point where they are applied to the entire veteran community in the criminal justice system. Moreover, when numbers are so small, and prisons in such dire straits, one must ask if this is a legitimate use of time and resources. As a former member of the Howard League Inquiry and Phillips Review of Veterans in the Criminal Justice System, I am more than wary of setting up “special units” for veterans as this clearly links military service with crime. Although the numbers were low The Howard League spotted that a large cohort of veterans in the CJS were there for sexual offences. As a veteran I am clear that crimes like that have nothing to do with military service or the veteran community and to this day no-one has explained to me which part of military life or training is linked to crime - particularly as the vast bulk of the 2.5m veterans in the country are law abiding citizens who frequently contribute to the wellbeing and betterment of their communities. It is vital that we must not assign all the ills of veterans’ lives to the military - whatever happened to personal responsibility?
Finally, we at Veterans Aid were asked to check on the background of some 40 inmates of a major UK prison who claimed to be veterans. To our dismay, 50% of those checked had never served in the military.