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First, I thank Mrs Trevelyan for securing this debate. I congratulate her on that, on her passionate support for serving personnel and veterans, and on her knowledge of the issues. I can safely say that we all welcome the publication of the fifth annual report on the armed forces covenant, but we should be very aware of the big challenges that remain, while welcoming the progress that has been made. The announcement last year of the £10 million per annum covenant fund was clearly a step forward, and the 300 projects that have resulted from it are a positive foundation that can be built on.
In recent years, society has become more aware and has more understanding of the effects of military service on the mental and physical health of those who chose to serve, and on their relationships with their families and their communities. However, quite apart from the rigours of their jobs, the challenges that face current and former military personnel in their own lives are many and varied, from post-traumatic stress or physical rehabilitation, to simply finding a house and job upon leaving the military.
Veterans are an asset to society and deserve our thanks, respect and support. There are some 13 million veterans in the UK today, amounting to one of the highest densities of veterans in a major country. In Scotland alone, approximately 1,800 men and women complete their military service and settle in our communities every year, many with their families. The transition from the armed forces to civilian is a hugely unsettling process. It involves leaving behind a job, a home, a community and a unique way of life—possibly the only life many servicemen and women have known in their adult lives. The importance of caring for veterans was underlined even further this week with the publication of a report entitled “Multiple deprivation in help-seeking UK veterans” by the charity Combat Stress. Among its key findings was the clear link between residence in areas with higher risks of deprivation and mental health difficulties. In addition, there was the startling finding that individual veterans take an average of 11 years before seeking help after leaving the military.