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Mental Health of Veterans

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 11th March 2020.

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Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence) 11:00 am, 11th March 2020

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent and important point, which he and I discussed when we were on the armed forces parliamentary scheme last year.

As we know from recent publicity, last week Commonwealth veterans took legal action against the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence over a systematic failure to assist them properly with complex immigration rules. Many of those veterans, sadly, now fear deportation. The claimants allege that the Government failed to follow their own duties at discharge, meaning that little guidance was given about their immigration status. Under current Home Office rules, a Commonwealth veteran with a partner and two children would have to pay—can you believe this?—nearly £10,000 to continue living in the UK.

Why do I raise that point in a debate on mental health support? Imagine someone risking their life for a country only to find out that they will have to pay just to live there when they retire. I cannot begin to think how stressful it would be for someone on a military pension to try to pay the Home Office’s extortionate visa fees. When the Home Office makes such decisions, they tap into the general problem, which has already been alluded to. Mental health support for veterans is not just a matter for the Ministry of Defence or the Department of Health and Social Care: it is also a matter for the Home Office, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Work and Pensions and many others.

Just last week, Craig Bulman, who served in 2 Para, the Red Devils freefall team and the Household Cavalry, contacted my office and told me about his experience with the Child Support Agency. Again, it is not an issue that would immediately strike us as relating to mental health. However, Craig told me:

“I am currently helping with 13 cases, mostly veterans. Of those, I have four veterans who are suicidal due to their experiences with the CSA. In a couple of these cases, it triggered their PTSD.”

I do not know a huge amount about those cases—in fact, I know little, and there is a lot more to the story—but I would be grateful if the Minister would agree to meet me to discuss Craig’s experience in more depth. I think it would be useful for the Ministry of Defence, as it would for the people Craig is helping. I bring it up again today to reiterate the simple point that we require a more collaborative and holistic approach to improving mental health support for veterans.