Posted on November 12, 2018
Never forget: As the world honours millions who fell in the Great War, ministers are accused of shirking their committment to today’s heroes
- Last night generals and MPs warned that today’s veterans are being neglected
- Ministers were accused of shirking their duty of care for the Armed Forces
- Research suggests veterans fare worse than civilians with health and housing
It was the moment we paid tribute to those lost a century ago.
But last night generals and MPs warned that today’s veterans are still being shamefully neglected.
As the centenary of the end of the First World War was marked at emotional events around the globe, ministers were accused of shirking their duty of care under the Armed Forces ‘covenant’.
Service personnel and veterans have the legal right to priority NHS care, decent homes and a good education for their children.
Yet new research suggests that they fare worse than civilians in terms of both health and housing.
Around 50,000 veterans have mental health issues, often sparked by combat stress. Another 6,000 are homeless and 10,000 are in prison or on probation.
Some veterans face the further ordeal of investigations over their tours of duty in Northern Ireland decades ago.
Others who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been hounded by ambulance-chasing lawyers.
Lord Dannatt, who was head of the Army from 2006 to 2009, said: ‘Is the Britain of 2018 a fit country for heroes, for our wounded service personnel or grieving families?
‘In many ways, sadly, it is not. The resources committed to alleviating post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses remain woefully short and the need very great.’
Defence minister Tobias Ellwood, who was a captain in the Royal Green Jackets, said: ‘We need to advance our support for our brave veterans. They served our country well, we owe them a debt of gratitude and I don’t want to see anybody homeless or indeed requiring support or denied the support that they deserve.’
Johnny Mercer, a Tory MP who saw action in Afghanistan, said improvements had been made in looking after veterans but progress had been slow and unambitious.
There are around 2.5million veterans in the UK, although some estimates suggest there may be as many as 6.2million in the wider ex-service community, including families.
New findings from Plaid Cymru suggest 50,000 veterans have mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by conflict. Some suffer crippling flashbacks, nightmares, depression and anxiety attacks. Many fall into chronic alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness and crime.
Since November 2003, at least 274 have taken their own lives. The analysis said a further 6,000 veterans have nowhere to live and 10,000 have been convicted of crime.
Working-age veterans are less likely to be employed than the general population and face discrimination from employers.
Even military widows can lose out under rules that force them to give up their pensions if they enter a new relationship.
Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts said: ‘We remember the sacrifices made by so many in order for us to be here today. But it is not just words that best honour their memory – we need actions too. Action so that their fellow servicemen and women are today treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
‘It is shocking that in 21st-century Britain 66,000 veterans are either homeless, in the justice system or suffering with mental health conditions. We may not forget those that gave their lives, but for today’s suffering veterans it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind.’
Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded troops in Afghanistan, said: ‘The Government has an enduring responsibility to properly look after the men and women who put their lives on the line for us. They must ensure they receive the finest possible medical and psychiatric care – if necessary for the rest of their lives – and are not simply thrown at the mercy of an over-stretched NHS.’
Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, yesterday warned that the Armed Forces risk being left unable to take the ‘risks that are necessary to take on the battlefield’ because of the threat of litigation.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said: ‘It obviously makes me uncomfortable to see people being investigated for what we all thought was an extraordinarily good effort in helping with the security of Northern Ireland.’
He said so-called ‘lawfare’ could paralyse military chiefs.
Labour defence spokesman Nia Griffith said: ‘In spite of the best efforts of many of those working in the sector, too many veterans are still not getting the support that they need.
‘The Government’s long-overdue veterans strategy needs to be far reaching and properly funded. It must strengthen the transition phases and implement proper joined-up thinking to ensure that no veteran who needs support falls through the net.’
The Department of Veterans Affairs is dedicated to caring for ex-service personnel in the United States. It provides comprehensive healthcare services at specialist medical centres and outpatient clinics, and non-healthcare benefits including disability compensation, vocational rehabilitation, education assistance, home loans and life insurance.
At yesterday’s main Remembrance Day event in London Prince Charles laid a wreath at the Cenotaph on behalf of the Queen, who watched the service from a balcony in Whitehall. She was joined by the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Cornwall.
The Duchess of Sussex, attending her first Cenotaph parade, stood shoulder to shoulder with the wife of German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier. It was the first time a German leader has laid a wreath there.