We covered the issue of the government’s neglect of war veterans’ mental health issues in our 2015 manifesto (pp.38/9).
A piece by Richard Kerbaj and Mark Hookham in yesterday’s Sunday Times:
Six former heads of the armed forces say Britain should be ashamed of its neglect of war veterans’ mental health and are calling on the government to act.
The unprecedented intervention by the former chiefs of the defence staff, who commanded the armed forces in the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia, follows an investigation by this newspaper.
The Sunday Times found 42 current and former servicemen and women died in suspected suicides this year.
This weekend the toll rose to 44 when it emerged that Lance-Corporal Karl Parker, 23, of the Army Air Corps in Yeovilton, Somerset, and Sapper Louis Kelly, 20, serving with the Royal Engineers, were found hanged within 10 hours of one another on October 14. Their deaths were unconnected and inquests at Salisbury have been adjourned.
General Lord Richards, Marshal of the RAF Lord Craig, Field Marshal Lord Guthrie, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce, Air Chief Marshal Lord Stirrup and General Lord Houghton, who ran Britain’s forces between 1988 and 2016, said caring for veterans and their mental health “should be a welcome and lasting obligation for all of us”.
“We should all be shamed to discover through revelations in The Sunday Times last weekend that five veterans died over a six-day period in tragic circumstances,” says the letter, signed by the six former chiefs.
“We are equally concerned that 42 former or current servicemen and women are believed to have taken their own lives since January this year.”
The former chiefs backed the Save Our Soldiers campaign, and its call for the government to “begin recording the number of suicides among ex-servicemen and women” to understand the scale of the mental health problems they face. The Ministry of Defence, unlike its US counterpart, does not collect comprehensive details relating to veterans.
The former chiefs also backed this newspaper’s calls for coroners to begin recording the service history of men and women who take their own lives. “The servicemen and women of our armed forces risk their lives to defend the safety and freedom that we take for granted as a nation,” the letter says.
“They willingly serve their Queen and country despite the physical and psychological hardships they know they will face. Many of the courageous men and women who fought for our sake and survived the horrors of wars in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan returned home with harrowing memories, including those of friends who weren’t fortunate enough to make it back.”
Last week, after questions by The Sunday Times, the MoD began a study of the “cause of death, including rates of suicide” among the 228,000 troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014. The study is expected to be complete in the middle of next year.
“As we mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and commemorate the sacrifice of all the men and women who have fought and died for the UK, now is a good time for our nation to renew its commitment to the proper care of our veterans,” the chiefs write. “Some good people in the MoD and elsewhere are now on the case but the rest of Whitehall must get behind them.”
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