The past two years have seen renewed interest by the government and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in supporting veterans. In 2019, the Prime Minister created the Office for Veterans Affairs while the first ever UK-wide strategy for veterans was released in 2018.
The immediate question, of course, is whether all these have translated into enhanced, real-world support for the servicemen and servicewomen who have left the military. Specialist lawyers Bolt Burdon Kemp, in partnership with military charity Veteran’s Lifeline, sought to find the answer.
A survey of military charities across the UK aimed to get their views on whether or not these measures have been effective, and where there’s room for improvement in the services and support currently provided.
The survey also explored the role of the government, the Armed Forces, the MOD, local councils and military charities themselves on supporting service leavers.
Some key findings of the survey, and direct quotes from those on the front line of veteran support are below:
Military charities say the government is not doing enough for veterans
One key step the government took to solidify their commitment to supporting service leavers was to create the Armed Forces Covenant (AFC) back in 2000. However, as one charity pointed out, there should be more emphasis on, not just signing up to it, but to actively promoting and participating in it.
In fact, a large majority of military charities agree that the government and the Armed Forces need to do more to support veterans on a variety of points.The survey found out that:
- 78% of military charities say the government is not doing enough to support veterans.
- 72% of military charities say the Armed Forces are not doing enough to support veterans.
- In contrast, almost half (47%) of military charities agree that the charity sector is doing enough to support veterans.
- While almost a quarter (21%) believe the charity sector is doing more than they should have to when it comes to supporting veterans.
Military charities also weighed in on where they believe the balance of support should lie. The survey asked whether the government and the Armed Forces should provide the majority of support for veterans, or whether this responsibility should lie more with the charity sector.
The 78% of military charities said that the government and the Armed Forces should provide most of the support. Of this, a quarter (26%) of military charities believe the government and the Armed Forces should provide a lot more support compared to that provided by the charity sector.
Is the MOD doing enough to ensure veterans can adjust to civilian life?
Part of the responsibility of the MOD should be to ensure that the people who leave the services are properly supported when they do so. This includes providing oversight of the military charities that service leavers turn to, and making sure they are adequately equipped to provide the necessary support.
However, 44% of military charities report receiving cases they aren’t equipped to handle at least once a year, while for one in four this happens at least once a month.
Some examples of cases the charities received that they weren’t equipped to handle, either due to lack of trained staff or lack of facilities included:
- Individuals who are suicidal or threatening self-harm and need referring to organisations outside of the charity sector.
- Cases where child protection services needed to be called for safeguarding a child.
- Cases where there are questions about pensions, housing or accessing social care.
Only one charity specifically reported having reliable partnerships and integrated services they could fall back on when they receive cases beyond their capacities.
Military charities believe veteran mental health is being neglected
In a March 2020 House of Commons debate, veteran mental health was a key topic addressed by Johnny Mercer, the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, jointly with the MOD.
Mercer noted that: ‘The government would be investing more than £200 million in veteran mental health over the next 10 years, and that he would recommend greater transparency in terms of how this money will be used.
But has this funding come too late? The survey found out that 74% of military charities believe the government is not doing enough to support the mental health of veterans, while 68% of military charities similarly believe the Armed Forces need to do more in terms of veteran mental health.
Worryingly, 10% of military charities believe the Armed Forces are doing nothing for veteran mental health and the 5% of military charities believe the government is doing nothing for veteran mental health
Nicholas Perry of Veterans Lifeline noted that: ‘There should be a policy change that forces the government to maintain some sort of sight of individuals post-discharge, maybe once a month for a six-month period.
He continued that: ‘This is particularly important for medically-discharged individuals with mental health issues, recommending that this oversight should be carried out by the same fully trained personal recovery officers that managed them out of service from the relevant personnel recovery unit.’
Enhanced mental health support was mentioned by several charities when asked what policy changes they believe would have the largest positive impact when it comes to improving the lives of veterans.
They also emphasised that the military charity sector itself may not be adequately equipped to deal with veteran mental health issues with only 44% of military charities agreeing that the mental health of employees in the sector is adequately supported when dealing with traumatic cases.
While the 58% of military charities stating they provide formal mental health support or training to staff that deal with traumatic cases.
Military charities want a closer working relationship with the government and armed forces
It goes without saying that military charities will be able to offer the most effective and efficient support for our service leavers by working closely with the government, the MOD, the Armed Forces and local councils.
However, less than third (32%) of military charities said the government works closely enough with them and just 37% said the Ministry of Defence works closely enough with them.
More positively, half of military charities agree that local councils do work closely enough with them and half of military charities also commented that they believe they work closely enough with other non-military charities.
Military charities say the sector needs better coordination
With the survey finding that one in five (22%) military charities believe the military charity sector needs more regulation, the extent to which Cobseo (The Confederation for Service Charities) plays a part in caring for service leavers came into question.
Some comments from the military charities interviewed included:
- There should be more coordination of all the military charities through Cobseo.
- The sector needs to be regulated.
- The sector needs to be granted of exemptions.
- Government and sector leadership are required, rather than regulations.
- The mental health support should be regulated in terms of what the charities offer to veterans.
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