Veterans and Armed Forces Community

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 17th November 2020.

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Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

I thank Graeme Dey for bringing the debate to the chamber. Last week, I had the privilege of taking part in the remembrance day debate and speaking about some charities that assist our veterans, ensuring that support is available for serving and ex-service personnel.

The Scottish Government has a responsibility to veterans on several devolved issues, including housing, health and social care, skills and employability, and education. There are about 400,000 veterans in Scotland—there are more than 500,000 people when the complete ex-service community, including families, is taken into account. The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that no member of the armed forces, service family member or veteran faces disadvantage.

During today’s debate, I would like to focus on mental health and the need for continual support—especially for our servicemen and women. I would also like to highlight charities such as Combat Stress and Rock2Recovery. Both have been working hard to develop online resources to provide peer support as well as maintaining helpline contacts aimed at coaching veterans and keeping them informed of techniques that might assist them in their time of need.

Some veterans with mental health issues might find themselves turning to drugs to alleviate their trauma. That can vary from alcohol to prescribed medication or illegal drug use. In last week’s debate, I mentioned the Glasgow-based charity the Coming Home Centre. I spoke about the challenges that it faced at the beginning of lockdown and about the importance of repetitiveness and familiarity, problems being heard and, of course, essential food packages being delivered.

The charity told me that, when it comes to mental health and wellbeing, a more joined-up method for support agencies is vital, as each individual serviceperson has different circumstances and a one-size-fits-all approach will always leave someone behind. I can give an example of a veteran with whom that charity is working who has tried, on numerous occasions, to take his own life with prescribed medication. Now his general practitioner will not prescribe until he is receiving help from an addiction team. The addiction team has a waiting list and, as he is now homeless, it has been difficult to negotiate with neighbouring councils to take responsibility for this veteran in his time of need.

Combat Stress reported that it is important to note that, as well as alcohol and drug consumption, chronic pain should be considered. In those cases, chronic pain might serve as a reminder of a traumatic event that will often make a veteran’s psychological symptoms even worse and lead to them feeling low in mood or feeling that life is not worth living. Many veterans struggle with feelings of frustration and anger, and those might feel more intense due to the recent pandemic.

The charity also stated that military training means being very alert to hidden dangers, along with the ability to become angry and aggressive very quickly. That could be useful in the military and is often necessary when on active duty, but not in civilian life. Some veterans might be left feeling angry about their experiences. Therefore, building up relationships of trust is necessary, because opening up about their lived experience can increase cases of post-traumatic stress. The first step of agreeing to support is not an easy task, and once that trust has been gained a referral can be made.

However, many support agencies, such as rehabilitation centres, require a person to be alcohol or drug free for four weeks. Addiction teams are vital but, when waiting lists are long, it becomes a continuous merry-go-round. That is why it is vital that there is more support for serving and ex-service personnel who are experiencing mental health problems. It is also why increased funding for our veterans is necessary and should be considered as a matter of urgency.

It has been a privilege to take part in this very important and timely debate. Thank you.