Saturday, 25 January 2020

Britain is no country for old soldiers with combat stress

In Britain, 'old soldier' is a generic term for ex-army soldiers, men and women, some of whom may be very old and others still relatively young. Three days ago, in a gesture of magnanimity, the Government announced that it was launching, for old soldiers, a 'Veteran Railcard', giving them a discount on rail fares. This new new railcard, available from Armistice Day this year, will allow the 830,000 eligible veterans a third off their fares.

Feeling pretty pleased with himself, the Cabinet Office Minister, Oliver Dowden, said : “Our new action plan will help to make the UK the best place in the world for veterans. The Office for Veterans’ Affairs will drive the plan from the heart of government, working to help veterans on jobs, housing and health, through better data and a more joined up approach."

'Combat Stress' is a charity offering therapeutic and clinical community and residential treatment, free of charge to former members of the British Armed Forces who are suffering from a range of mental health conditions, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was formed in 1919, as the 'Ex-Servicemen's Welfare Society', following World War I, when the effects of shell shock were first becoming known.

On average, it takes 13 years for an old soldiers, sailors and air personnel to make first contact Combat Stress for advice, help, and treatment. For those, the 1,185, who sought help who served in Iraq in Gulf War I and Gulf War II and the 971 who served in Afghanistan, the time period was much shorter.

Today Combat Stress dropped a bombshell when it said that it isn't able to take any new cases in England and Wales, because of a funding crisis which has seen its income fall from £16m to £10m in the current financial year partly due to Government cuts in National Health Service funding support. Previously NHS England has commissioned Combat Stress to provide a six-week residential programme with more than £3m funding a year. The charity still receives more than £1m from NHS Scotland and it will continue to take on new cases there and in Northern Ireland.

Although the charity can now only refer new cases to the NHS, Sue Freeth, Chief Executive of Combat Stress, has questioned whether NHS England will be able to cope and told the BBC : "I don't believe the NHS can pick this up. That is why we exist." She said that 80% of veterans who come to her organisation have either used the NHS and have not had their needs met, or have felt unable to use NHS services.

In addition, the charity's President and former Head of the Army, General Sir Peter Wall, said : "The onus to treat the small minority of military veterans suffering from mental ill-health is falling on a charity that lacks the resources to meet the current demand. We all have a responsibility to sort this out".

All of this has galvanised Government 'Minister for Defence People and Veterans', Johnny Mercer, a former Army captain, into action. He said he will hold an “urgent meeting” to discuss Combat Stress’s problems caused by, err ..... the budget cuts imposed by Mrs May's Conservative Government in which he served as, err.....Veterans' Minister.
Last September after saying post-combat stress “ripped apart” those he served with, he said : “I have an intimate understanding of the issues. I am not going to pretend for a minute that I have all the answers. I don’t think anybody has got all the answers, but I am determined to get mental health care, whether it’s in the veterans’ community or the military community or indeed the NHS, to a place where we can offer those who have served in this country the best mental health care in the world.”

Apparently, old soldiers in need of help need have nothing to fear because a spokesperson for the NHS has said: “Our number one priority is providing the best care for veterans and, after listening to what they wanted and a competitive process, the NHS has rolled out new specialist services to every part of the country which have seen over 10,000 people to date and are funded by more than £10 million every year. For anyone who has served in the Armed Forces and may be experiencing mental health difficulties help is available through speaking to their GP or contacting the dedicated NHS services directly.”

In other words, despite the fact that 'old soldiers with problems' prefer to seek help from an organisation dedicated to 'old soldiers with problems' , they now have no choice. Needless to say, many will simply not seek the help they need and this, against the background where, a number of groups and charities have warned of a spike in the number of veterans taking their own lives.

Earlier this month the body of a former soldier, Jamie Davis, was found after he went missing. His wife Alicia has criticised the "lack of intervention" to help him with his post-traumatic stress disorder.  Jamie's former commanding officer in Afghanistan has also expressed his concern.
Retired Major Richard Streatfield served in Sangin in 2010 and said Jamie was the fourth soldier under his command to have died at home in "similar tragic circumstances". He said the British Army and the Government has a duty to dedicate time and resources to those who have been exposed to trauma.

Britain : a country where old soldiers can get free rail travel because they are old soldiers, but can't get help with the mental health problems they have because they are old soldiers, from a charity dedicated to them, as old soldiers

No comments:

Post a Comment