Gap in Veterans Support Still Frustrating Say Charities
HEALTH bodies, military charities and politicians united in a quest to find a ‘silver bullet’ to strike at the heart of Britain’s veteran suicide crisis. Organisations were able to vent their frustrations at the current ‘gaps’ in support for ex-forces personnel to Labour’s shadow minister for veterans, reserves and personnel, Gerald Jones.
They met with the Welsh MP after his visit to Portsmouth’s naval base, during an hour-long summit at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Causes said more funding needed to be provided to charities and NHS services to help veterans in crisis. But they also highlighted the need for a more co-ordinated approach to be taken between the plethora of forces charities and emergency services. Retired soldier Dan Arnold is the co-founder of Portsmouth-based cause All Call Signs and was among the groups at the meeting.
Set up in the wake of the suicide of special forces hero Danny Johnston, the organisation aims to support veterans in dire need or to rally search groups to find those missing and thought to be suicidal. He said: ‘There is a massive gap in service delivery at the point where someone is in complete crisis and feeling suicidal.‘There isn’t a true crisis intervention at the point when they’re in the direst of needs – at that point, there’s nothing.’ Other people at the session included the Royal British Legion, Combat Stress, Veterans Outreach Support (VOS), and Solent NHS Trust among others. Matthew Hall, of Solent NHS Trust, said medical services were stretched dealing with traumatised veterans, who often faced complex needs. He urged Mr Jones to fight to secure a ‘ring-fenced funding pot’ for NHS services supporting veterans in crisis.
Mr Jones said the government’s newly-launched veterans strategy had some ‘good ideas’ in improving the situation. But he said more was still needed, adding: ‘Coordination and collaboration don’t cost anything but if you want to raise awareness then all of that takes funding. ‘And when local authorities and public bodies have been significantly cash-strapped over the last seven or eight years, then that has a knock-on effect. ‘There is now a real challenge to provide even basic services because of eight years of austerity. That’s what we need to address.’ As previously revealed by The News, Britain has no official records of the number of veterans who take their own lives.
The revelation sparked outrage, with government bowing to public pressure and vowing to arrange for veteran suicide rates to be formally documented. Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, organised the meeting and said he would be scrutinising the new veterans strategy. ‘I want to make sure the government don’t just have warm words but that they have deeds as well,’ he said. ‘It was good today to learn about some of the good work going on in Portsmouth, what the challenges are and what I can do as an MP that cares for our armed forces and veterans to make sure they get a better service when they leave the military.’
Stephen James, co-founder of All Call signs, felt reassured by the MPs comments and said: ‘We covered a lot of ground in a short time which is a testament to the benefits of getting everyone under the same roof. ‘Collaboration was a key theme of the meeting, we now have to look at how we make that a long-term reality that benefits veterans and service personnel in need.’ Mr Jones added he would ‘take back’ all the good ideas from Portsmouth and said: ‘Discussions like this are incredibly useful. ‘We could all do well to listen to the experiences of the people at the grassroots, at the coalface. Nobody knows better about what needs to change than the people who provide those services at the grassroots level. ‘We’ve had a great example of that here this afternoon.’