Good news in today’s edition:
The Ministry of Defence will start recording the number of suicides among military veterans in a victory for The Sunday Times’s Save Our Soldiers campaign.
Tobias Ellwood, the defence minister, said the move was crucial for the government to “better understand” the toll of modern conflict on ex-servicemen and women.
We have identified 56 veterans and serving personnel believed to have killed themselves since January. Last month, there were 14 deaths, with five taking their lives in as many days.
Last week, a former soldier in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was found dead on his 46th birthday. The death toll since November 2003 has reached 274.
Unlike the authorities in America and Canada, the MoD does not collect comprehensive information about veterans’ deaths.
Three weeks ago, The Sunday Times called on the government to start collecting data to understand the scale of the mental health crisis gripping Britain’s military veterans, as a first step to improving care.
This weekend, Ellwood pledged to start recording the information, saying: “Our ambition is to understand from every coroner whether an individual death is a veteran or not.”
His comments come as the MoD prepares to unveil its first veterans’ strategy to help improve the health and wellbeing of veterans and their access to services. As part of the strategy, due to be published this week, defence chiefs will work with businesses to find new ways of helping veterans find work when they return to civilian life.
Ellwood, a former captain in the Royal Green Jackets, said he wanted former soldiers to be shown the kind of public gratitude commonplace in America. “Let’s hear the announcement on boarding an aircraft to invite veterans to step up and board first as an act of gratitude for their service,” he said.
The minister, whose army veteran uncle killed himself after suffering from depression, said military officers were now responsible for speaking out if they believed anyone under their command was suffering from mental health problems. By comparison, he said those struggling were expected to “grab a man-suit” during his own army career in the 1990s.
He disclosed that a study was being carried out into the mental health of RAF drone pilots, amid concerns about the pressures of killing people via remote warfare.
Under the plan to record veterans who take their own lives, suicide and open verdicts recorded by coroners will be passed to the MoD, which will then check the names against its own service records. Labour this weekend also pledged to “officially log numbers of veterans who commit suicide”.
The MoD’s latest data says 194 servicemen and women killed themselves between 2003 and 2018. But The Sunday Times can reveal that at least another 80 also killed themselves in that period.
Ellwood voiced concerns about a public perception that those who served in the armed forces were “damaged”.
An internal MoD study into suicides among serving personnel, published on Friday night after questions from The Sunday Times, found the suicide rate in the UK military was lower than the US and Canadian armed forces and UK police, though it recommended a new “suicide prevention plan”.
Jeff Williams and Jim Wilde from Veterans United Against Suicide accused the government of being in “total denial” about the scale of suicides among serving and former military personnel. “The military brotherhood is at a boiling point with the slow reaction by the government in regards to taking what we consider obvious action,” Williams said.
Ellwood also said Britain must retain the “hard power” provided by its military and warned against further cuts to the armed forces at next year’s spending review.
“We now move into the spending review [and] we need to make a convincing case to prevent our armed forces from diminishing in their capability — or we will move from being leaders to being led.”
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