Veterans (Data on Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Abuse)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 1st June 2022.

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Photo of Sandesh Gulhane Sandesh Gulhane Conservative

8. To ask the Scottish Government what data it collects on any difficulties faced by veterans in Scotland, including on the prevalence of mental health issues and drug and alcohol abuse. (S6O-01157)

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

Improving veterans data continues to be a priority for the Scottish Government. The member will be aware that, for the first time, Scotland’s census 2022 included a question on previous service with the armed forces. We have also identified additional sources of regular data collection, for example by including the same question in the Scottish household and health surveys.

In addition, there is a veterans marker in the new drug and alcohol information system, which is a national database that holds data that relates to specialist drug and alcohol treatment from services across Scotland.

Photo of Sandesh Gulhane Sandesh Gulhane Conservative

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer

, although it seems that the new census is £150 million over budget, and that it might not provide us with the information that we need. It is also clear that there is a lack of data related to specific issues for veterans. Without such data, we cannot fully understand veterans’ needs and provide the correct help for them.

In view of the need for that data, what steps will the Scottish Government take to ensure that future statistical releases include specific data on issues for veterans such as mental health waiting times, so that we can more accurately assess the scale of such problems?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I have mentioned the steps that we are taking. I have tried for years—over a decade—to get information from the UK Government on this, but I have been refused at virtually every turn. If the member could perhaps have a word with his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence and ask them to provide data about veterans in Scotland, that would be helpful.

I mentioned how we can get information from the census and DAISy—the drug and alcohol information system—on addiction services. We have published the veterans mental health and wellbeing action plan, and its implementation board, which has been mentioned previously, will have on it representatives from the Scottish Veterans Care Network. That and all the veterans organisations that we deal with can help us to get a more rounded picture of the needs of veterans across Scotland.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

In March, services that provide mental health support to armed forces veterans were given an important funding boost when the Scottish Government announced £1.4 million for Combat Stress and a further £666,000 for Veterans First Point.

What improvements does the Government expect to see to the lives and experiences of our veterans as a result of that funding?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

The improvements to the lives and experiences of veterans will be not just because of the funding that Graeme Dey mentioned, but substantially down to the work that he carried out as veterans minister.

The funding ensures that Scotland’s veterans can access appropriate support and it includes funding for specialist veterans peer support workers, who understand the experiences of those who have served and ensure that veterans and their families are directed to the help that they need when they need it.

We are providing funding to support the implementation of the veterans mental health and wellbeing action plan, including the recently announced £50,000 for the See Me campaign, which will challenge mental health stigma and discrimination experienced by veterans, and hopefully change attitudes and behaviours, so that veterans with experience of mental health problems are respected, valued and empowered. I expect those developments to deliver significant improvements to the lives and experiences of veterans in Scotland.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes portfolio questions on justice and veterans. There will be a very short pause before we move to the next item, which will be portfolio questions on finance and the economy, to allow front-bench teams to change positions if they wish.