Failing Our Troops | Sarah Stook

The shocking stories about veterans being put at the bottom of the housing ladder or not receiving support from mental health stories can often be seen as sensationalist news stories intended to reach a variety of demographics, they are not at all sensationalist- they are true. Our bravest men and women have seen horrors, fought in wars popular and unpopular, only to come home to a lack of a safety net, unemployment and homelessness. In a society that often shows its deference to the armed forces through yearly remembrance and charity, it is an utter disgrace.

We’d like to think it’s an easy process, just as it should be. In a sensible world there would be a safety net for veterans, especially those already deemed vulnerable. They’d also be top of the housing ladder and would be fast tracked in employment services to ensure a steady job once they have left military service. Most unfortunately, we do not live in a sensible world. Our active forces and veterans cannot rely on the state that has sent them to war to protect them when they arrive home. Families, friends and well-wishing strangers may try their best to help, but inadequate protection from the highest echelons of society means that they are not reaching their full potential.

So where have we gone wrong?

 

Mental Health:

9/10,000 serving armed forces servicemen committed suicide between 1998 and 2017.

8/10,000 serving naval servicemen committed suicide between 1998 and 2017.

5/10,000 serving RAF servicemen committed suicide between 1998 and 2017.

The figure is lower than the average male population; the suicide of armed forces and veteran personnel is still a tragic and shocking event that highlights the deep flaws in our support system. 2012 was a particularly awful year, with 50 veterans and active soldiers killing themselves compared to 40 KIAs in Afghanistan.

It is quite frankly no surprise that soldiers often get mental health issues, especially depression and PTSD, considering what they have done and seen. If a soldier wishes to get help from the NHS, they are either referred to Veterans UK or to specialist mental health services which is all well and good, but considering the waiting times for mental health are extraordinarily high. 20% of people in some areas of the country wait longer than 18 weeks for treatment, even though the guidelines say that 95% of people should have had treatment by that time. When a soldier is very mentally ill, they can barely wait one day, much less eighteen weeks. The specific service for veterans does not necessarily cover the most complex issues, though the Complex Treatment Services (CTS) says that it aims for an initial appointment within two weeks. This is obviously not the fault of the treatment services, but of overstretched and under resourced resources.

The mental health of veterans does not only affect them, but their families. It is deeply concerning that some children will see their fathers or mothers get angry very suddenly or start to self-medicate through alcohol. Family support networks are essential in life and if they start to break down, then this can make the situation worse. Services and charities can help the family members, but they don’t always know how to access them or perhaps are reluctant to out of fear. Mental health issues are also a trigger, something that can lead to homelessness and unemployment as we will discuss later. Though many people do support our troops mental health is still not fully understood, with people either taking the mick by being cruel towards sufferers or people (Tumblr users mainly) romanticising depression and other issues.

The figures listed above come from a list of armed forces personnel deemed vulnerable. Every one of those suicides was preventable. It is not the fault of the suicide victim or the health services who tried so hard to help him/her. The state sends people to war but is unable to provide the help that they need. It is not through a callous nature, but through a lack of deeper understanding as to what the true needs of the vulnerable are. The state does not just need to change, but society does so that the reluctant can finally build up the courage to receive help.

 

Homelessness:

13,000 estimated homeless veterans live on British Streets.

6% of London’s homeless men are ex-veterans.

12% of Glasgow’s homeless men are ex-veterans.

Though the number of veterans making up the homeless people in London has decreased from 20%, there is still no reason as to why they should not be without a place to live. Even if the homeless services are able to shelter them, there is more of a complexity as to their needs- many will suffer from mental health issues that make them harder to support or receive employment. A report showed that former servicemen are more reluctant than others to seek support, mainly due to the independence that is set in their brain- that is one step.

There are waiting list bands for social housing, with those who are living in cramped conditions, who are legally homeless and have certain medical conditions like cancel legally being given priority. Only some councils give priority to ex servicemen, even those with certain conditions. Council housing is also becoming increasingly harder to get for a variety of reasons, which means building is urgently needed. A British Legion report recommended giving veterans priority in housing, something that is yet to be soon.

A lack of a permanent home also negatively affects employment opportunity and mental health. With no address, they are unable to register with a GP which then leads to an inability to receive help for mental health or set down roots for employment. When someone is homeless without even a shelter, there are huge risks involved such as likelihood of being attacked or getting very ill.

 

Unemployment:

Veterans are less likely to be in full time work (57%) against the general population (68%)

Less likely to be in part time work (6%) against the general population (9%)

Nearly twice as likely to be unemployed (11%) against the general population (6%)

More likely to be excluded from the labour market (25%) against the general population (17%)

The transition from army life, especially if they started at a young age, can be hard for anyone. One such example is going into civilian work after time in the armed forces. A study revealed that many veterans felt employers had a preconceived idea about them due to their military service, with some even reporting they’d been asked if they’d ever killed someone or other similarly inappropriate questions. A survey indicated that many employers do somewhat have a prejudice against veterans, believing them to have values incompatible with a potential working environment or that they may have issues. In terms of education, many who were recruited young or from poorer areas have low ability in learning- up to 50% have the literacy and numeracy levels of an 11 year old. Whilst female service leavers tended to be more able to get into employment, BAME veterans of both genders struggled against whites (68% against 87%).

A lack of mental health care and housing is also a key issue here, as both will make it a lot harder to gain employment. This is particularly true when someone has PTSD, as this can severely affect their interaction with others and work productively.

 

Northern Ireland Witch Hunts:

Theresa May and the government decided to re-open cases of British troops accused of crimes against the IRA during the Troubles to much anger. Tony Blair’s government sent letters to those on the run to assure them that they were not being targeted, but not to those who were accused on the British side. The vast majority of killings were from terrorists from both sides, but this is not being focused on.

Yes, some may have done terrible things but that is such a minority that it is not worth focusing on so many. The Good Friday Agreement allowed the release of many paramilitary prisoners such as Patrick Magee, the Brighton Bomber. Hyde Park Bomber John Downey was given immunity by police and bomb maker Danny McNamee was released early under the Good Friday Agreement, with his conviction later quashed completely. Those British troops accused in murky circumstances are not given the same rights as murderers.

The easiest action for this as follows: close those cases and ensure there is not the hounding of mainly innocent men and women.

 

A quick look online shows that the majority of help that veterans can receive is from charity, which is not necessarily always a bad thing; but the services provided by government are failing our men and women in uniform. Though we may not always agree with the war or the agenda, these service people are going out and actively risking their lives for everyone back home. Poor veterans begging for help should be a relic of the Napoleonic or Boer War, not of the War on Terror service people. We hear of the witch hunts of Northern Ireland, of veterans killing themselves or struggling on the streets. Pictures of homeless people with signs reading ‘veteran’ should break our hearts, but they have become pictures on nameless Instagram accounts. No man or woman should come home from traumatic if brave service to lower life chances. Our respect for them has no boundaries, but that respect does not always translate into actual help.

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