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Does Britain Need a Dedicated War Veterans Ministry?

Over 200,000 British armed forces veterans served in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 to 2014. Add to that the many survivors of 20th century combat and there is no denying that war veterans are an increasingly significant part of our society.

New research from Kings College London suggests that around 83,000 ex-servicemen and women continue to suffer mental or physical problems from recent wars. The Counting the Costs study looked at people who served as regulars from the 1991 Gulf War to the 2014 withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan and aimed to estimate how many former service personnel will have significant healthcare needs at some point in their lives.

Worryingly, the study found that many veterans suffer in silence, with a Kings College spokesperson saying that there is “a good body of evidence suggesting that the majority of those with healthcare needs do not ask for help”. Just this week, Veteran Lee James appeared on the Radio 4 Today programme. Lee was left with lasting psychological damage after an incident in 2010 and told the BBC how he struggled to find where to go for support.

It’s for people like Veteran Lee James that an MP is now calling for a dedicated Government department to look after the needs of former service personnel.

Ministry for Veterans’ Affairs

The call for the proposed Ministry for Veterans’ Affairs comes from Plymouth MP Johnny Mercer, a former army officer. He wants a dedicated department that veterans can approach and ask for help, and who can coordinate treatment and support services for returning troops.

In a new report entitled Veterans’ Care in the United Kingdom: a sustainable model post-2015, Mr Mercer describes a wide discrepancy in access to essential services for ex-service personnel and a further discrepancy in the delivery and effectiveness of those services. He says: “With the demand for veterans’ services increasing as resources decrease… the time is now right to place the entire veterans’ care sector on a sustainable footing."

In a previous blog, Mental Health Needs of Armed Forces Veterans, I mentioned how it can take veterans an average of 13 years to seek help after they leave the armed forces. A dedicated Ministry for Veterans Affairs could better help meet the needs of veterans, especially if it is given the appropriate authority to deliver the changes.

Mr Mercer’s report details how he sees the future of veteran support, including proposals for the new Government department to:

  • have access to service records
  • work closely with the NHS and other care providers
  • manage cases on an individual basis, ensuring a veteran’s specific needs are met

We are witnessing an ever-increasing number of stories highlighting veterans’ issues. The difficulties they face in finding and accessing support – particularly mental health support – upon leaving service is a real issue and causes untold stress and harm to those already suffering.

A dedicated Veterans Ministry would be a major step forward in dealing with these issues. If it were to be established, I’d hope the views of both veterans and serving personnel are sought to ensure that it consistently meets the current and future needs of our veterans.

Zoe Sutton is a senior associate solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK, specialising in military claims.

Slater and Gordon offer a free consultation for armed forces personnel injured during military service, with most claims funded through a No Win, No Fee agreement. This means there is no financial risk to you.

Call us 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.

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