Armed Forces: Mental Health

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23 October 2017.

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Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Conservative, North West Cambridgeshire 12:00, 23 October 2017

What plans he has to improve mental health support for armed forces personnel.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

We must recognise that historically mental health has not received the same attention as physical wellbeing. I am therefore pleased that in July we published our new mental health and wellbeing strategy, which comprehensively addresses this. I hope that that will lead to a cultural change in challenging the stigma and improving the mental fitness of our armed forces personnel and, indeed, their families.

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Conservative, North West Cambridgeshire

I am grateful to the Minister for those comments. Does he agree that it is important not only that we provide better treatment for our veterans, but that the public appreciate that the vast majority of veterans who leave the armed forces do so all the better for having served, rather than as damaged individuals?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend makes such an important point. I think that the whole House respects and reveres our armed forces, but we need to bury the myth that someone who joins the armed forces is more likely to have mental health problems, more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder and more likely to commit suicide than the general population. That is absolutely not the case. We have 2.5 million veterans in this country, and 15,000 leave every single year. Of those, 90% get into jobs or education within six months. Of course some of them, through no fault of their own, require support, and we need to make sure that we provide it.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Conservative, Aldershot

Veterans have done their duty and we must ensure that we do ours by them. Can the Minister say a few words about what extra steps are being taken by the Armed Forces Covenant and Veterans Board to address this critical issue?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I am pleased to say that this was a manifesto commitment. We need to recognise that it is not just the MOD that looks after our veterans’ interests; that happens across Whitehall. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be chairing the first meeting of the board on Thursday.

My hon. Friend asks about the covenant, which is very important even though it is in its infancy. It encourages businesses to employ veterans and allow reservists to go on their training, and it provides deals for regular members of the armed forces.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian

The Veterans Welfare Service is committed to enhancing veterans’ quality of life, and its main objective is the efficient delivery of core services. My constituent, Scott Garthley, has had a very different experience, with his records failing to display his veteran status and with the loss of his national insurance payment records. Will the Minister meet my constituent to discuss these matters?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I make it clear that if any hon. Member has such a situation, I would be more than delighted to make sure that we understand what support can be provided. That is the duty of this House, the MOD and the nation. Working out which way to turn can be confusing. There are 450 charities out there, and the Veterans Gateway programme, which was launched this July, provides that support. I would be more than delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I am very worried about the complacency in the Minister’s answers. Why is it that Crisis and so many other charities that work with homeless people and people who are sleeping rough find that a huge percentage of them are ex-military personnel? What are we doing about it?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

That is another example of a myth that we need to bust. I pay tribute to the local authorities and the charities that are doing their work. Where we are failing, if we are failing, is in not communicating where the support for our brave veterans is. That is something that we all need to work towards.