Accessing mental health support is a battle veterans should not have to fight
The Government should be making it easier for veterans, service personnel, and their families to connect with one another and access peer-led mental health support, writes Jamie Stone MP.
Since introducing my Bill to ringfence NHS spending for veteran mental health services, military personnel from across the UK have got in touch to confirm the worst: Veterans are struggling to access vital mental health support. We are letting them down.
One Veteran, Mark Lister – a Combat Stress volunteer in the Highlands who served as a Forward Observer in the Royal Artillery for eighteen years, called me up yesterday and relayed his personal experiences. One of the things he said that stood out to me was that there is a stark difference between combat trauma experienced by a solider and trauma experienced by a civilian.
He said, in a wonderfully frank Highland way, “Jamie – only a veteran is going to know how to help another veteran. We don’t want to have to explain the ins and outs of the Gulf geography. We don’t want to go through explaining all that. We just want to speak about our trauma with someone who gets what it’s like”. Of course, he’s right.
Most of us will never be able to understand what our Veterans have been through. That is why some of the best care available comes in the form of peer to peer support, of the kind provided by Combat Stress. However, Conservative cuts are making it harder for these services to exist, never mind be set up.
In constituencies like mine where accessing healthcare is already difficult, it is particularly challenging for Veterans, like Mark, to reach out and share what they’ve been through with people who, just like them, have risked their lives for their country.
The Care Quality Commission rated two out of four MoD mental health centres as inadequate or needing improvement between April 2017 and January 2019. There were at least 50% shortfalls in both uniformed and civilian psychiatrist posts in 2017-18. For anyone that is interested about the scale of the funding issue, I would point them towards this Defence Committee report.
You could look at the timing of my debate and say, ‘That’ll be buried under the Budget!’ but ever the optimist, I see the clash in Parliamentary scheduling highlights as an opportunity. It will be a good chance for me and MPs from across the House, who I know share my depth of feeling on this issue, to raise awareness about the increasing challenges faced by veterans trying to access mental health support.
The long and short of it is that the Government should be making it easier for veterans, service personnel, and their families to connect with one another and access peer-led mental health support. It is beggar’s belief that people who have risked their lives for us are being let down. Accessing mental health support is a battle they should not have to fight.
I will urge the Government to get serious and back my Bill. Its second reading is scheduled for the 26 June, the day before Armed Forces Day. I will not be letting the issue rest any time soon.
Jamie Stone is the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.