Healthcare for UK Military Veterans

From April 1, 2024, ex-services personnel within prisons in England will be able to access a new service offering practical and emotional support. The programme, called Op NOVA, is funded by NHS England and is provided by the Forces Employment Charity (FEC), backed by another charity, Care After Combat. 

Op NOVA case workers will pay monthly visits to every English prison, male and female. They will arrange group forums and one-to-one meetings so that ex-services personnel can discuss the issues that concern them, aiming to ensure their health is looked after with particular attention paid to mental health. The case workers will then support their clients in accessing appropriate services within the prison. Participants will also be able, if necessary, to contact their case worker between meetings. 

The specialist team providing the service includes people from the Armed Forces community, as well as individuals who have worked in the police, probation, prisons, or charity sector. The providers believe that the broad range of lived experience within the team means they are well placed to support veterans. 

The launch of Op NOVA follows a pilot project carried out prior to Covid. The service in prisons will run alongside a community-based service, launched a year ago, for veterans who are classed as being at risk of arrest and conviction, or have recently been released from prison.

Prisons have Veterans in Custody Support Officers (ViCSOs) who will help to identify those who can participate, and who can also give support as the scheme progresses. Prisons have, since 2015, asked newly-arrived prisoners whether they have served in the Armed Forces. The 2021 census for England and Wales showed that 4.86 per cent of the prison population were veterans.

One problem often faced by ex-services personnel is homelessness, sometimes the cause of their original offence, so it is crucial their accommodation after release is secure. Op NOVA will help with this by seeking to link its clients with community services, to try to ensure that they can get settled in decent premises when they walk out of the prison gates – and that appropriate support is in place for health conditions, addictions, or employment.

Chloe Mackay, Deputy Chief Executive of FEC, believes the new scheme will have a very positive impact. She said: “We believe this will make a difference to their lives, both inside and outside prison. So many have faced great problems after being discharged. We are determined to put this right.”

Op NOVA has a free phone line: 0800 917 7299 that will operate from Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm, and Saturday 8am to 2pm.