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Fri, 3 July 2020

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We must stop turning a blind eye to veteran suicide

We must stop turning a blind eye to veteran suicide
4 min read

Our military veterans deserve tailored mental health care that supports their complex and unique needs. But the government is failing to take their plight seriously, writes Stephen Morgan


I cannot think of many jobs that regularly require you to sleep outside, cover long distances each day by foot and potentially be put in harm’s way. We demand so much from our brave service men and women, we must offer them our support when they return to civilian life. Across the country, veterans are being let down by this government’s lack of action.

Currently, the government’s efforts to support our veteran’s mental health is substandard. It is morally repugnant that in an NHS budget of over £150 billion UK-wide, less than £10 million per annum (0.007%) has been allocated to veteran-specific mental health services.

The government is not only refusing to give the necessary money to veteran’s services, but it is also refusing to give us the tools to highlight the gravity and reach of the problem by declining to hold relevant data.

The Ministry of Defence has refused requests to start recording suicides that occur within the veteran community, something that separates us from our allies in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The significance of this cannot be underestimated.  Without a quantifiable record, it will be harder to make progress with regard to addressing the serious issue. Current estimates project that it could be as high as one ex-serviceperson every seven days but without detailed analysis, the problem has the potential to be far worse.

The information that I have received from experts in this field and hugely important projects run by veterans like All Call Signs in my constituency is that the problems faced by veterans when they return to civilian life can be overwhelming and vastly dissimilar to the experiences of the general population. We need to see a system that provides a tailored mental health service to support these complex needs.

Calls for suicide monitoring have come from a litany of sources including media organisations, charities, and concerned MPs. Significantly, the Defence Select Committee, the body responsible for the checks and balances of the department, has joined in condemning the government’s actions. In a recent report, they made recommendations that the Ministry of Defence should cooperate with the Ministry of Justice to collate data on whether individuals who have committed suicide were from the veteran community. Again, the government refused to take heed of these suggestions and continues to turn a blind eye to our veterans’ plight.

The degree of disorganisation and miscommunication amongst the Government departments became evident to me upon securing this Westminster Hall debate. Within 24 hours both the MoD and the Health Department made contact to express that they would be answering my questions posed at the debate. Upon my questioning of their dual response, I received the following email: “I believe there has been some confusion from our side and it’s confirmed that MoD will be responding to the debate.”

This is a microcosm for the problem at hand. The government is in disarray over who is responsible.

This is why over the past two years, I have met with multiple veterans’ charities such as All Call Signs and Combat Stress, hosted a round table discussion with local groups and submitted a string of written questions. These efforts have culminated in successfully securing a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament, which will give me and other Members of Parliament the opportunity to highlight these injustices directly to the Government Minister responsible.

I hope that we can lay down foundations that will act to convince the Government to make recording the rate of suicides among British military veteran’s compulsory.

The fact that the figures are currently not readily available for public scrutiny is a danger to service people and our democracy. Ultimately, I will not stop raising this matter in Parliament until we see the structures change and the Government show veterans the respect they need and deserve.

Stephen Morgan is Labour MP for Portsmouth South. The Westminster Hall debate on Veterans suicide is on Wednesday 3rd at 4.30pm 

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