Veterans and Armed Forces Community

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

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Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

Following last week’s debate on remembrance commemorations, it is fitting that this week we are discussing support for veterans and the armed forces community, as Mary Fee said.

Although the armed forces and defence in general are still the responsibility of the UK Government, it is right that the duty of care is shared with devolved Governments and partners across all sectors. The establishment of the Scottish veterans commissioner has been a very important step in ensuring that there is continuous progress and improvement in supporting veterans and their families.

Those leaving the armed forces and choosing Scotland as their home for themselves and their families are greatly valued for the contribution that they make to life in Scotland. In the north-east of Scotland, many former armed services personnel have found employment in the oil and gas sector over the years. That is not least because of the many transferable skills that they gained during their time in the forces. The harsh environment that they experienced during their time in the forces may not be that different from life offshore, if they are working in that environment.

Nonetheless, the transition to civilian life can sometimes be problematic. I therefore welcome the offer of work placements and fixed-term appointments for veterans through the going forward into employment programme.

One enduring concern for those involved with the armed forces and their families is the education of forces children. Getting it right for every child has special resonance for children who may have had many moves during their education. I commend the work that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the General Teaching Council for Scotland are doing in that field. The GTCS is working to overcome barriers for teachers who may not have quite the right qualifications to work in Scotland, so that their qualifications can be recognised or so that they can get further qualifications.

The condition of the housing stock on bases for forces families has become an issue as we keep one eye on climate change and look to ensure that everyone has a warm, well-insulated house. It would be good to move towards more co-operation between the armed forces and local authorities on that. It is heartening that discussion with veterans charities has meant that bespoke homes are now being built for veterans with disabilities, if not at the pace that we would like to see.

The transition to civilian life is a smooth one for the majority of veterans. We should not forget that. However, that transition can be difficult for some. That can be compounded by the traumatic events that they may have experienced in action. Those may lead to PTSD, a condition that affects not only the person themselves but their whole family. Like many MSPs, I have had to help families in such situations.

As Maurice Corry said, there are many veterans charities and there is more co-ordinated help than there once was. Many well-resourced veterans charities offer help with the issues that I have mentioned and with both physical and mental health. Keith Brown and I visited such facilities when we were ministers and Graeme Dey and I visited veterans organisations in Aberdeen in summer 2019.

What stays with me is the necessity for peer mentoring. Some veterans reject help and counselling because they believe that those mentoring them cannot understand what they have experienced. I am pleased that veterans charities and organisations increasingly recognise the importance of peer mentors who have experienced those things themselves.

Charities have found it difficult to deliver services during Covid. I commend all those who continue to be there for those who need it.