The director of a Catholic mental health project has voiced concern over the lack of resources to address mental health issues in the armed forces, and has called for a fast track service for serving personnel and veterans requiring support.
Ben Bano, director of Welcome me as I Am, insisted that those who have served in the army, as well as those currently serving, are at a higher risk of mental health issues and their needs should be addressed with urgency.
“The lack of resources to address the mental health issues of armed services personnel and veterans is of particular concern. Mental health issues are often complex and manifest themselves for years after the experience of traumatic episodes,” he told The Catholic Universe.
“For this reason it is important that the mental health needs not only of serving personnel but also of veterans should be addressed and where needed those involved should be fast tracked to ensure immediate mental health support.
“Our parishes can help by providing information on appropriate sources of help.”
His call comes after Combat Stress, the UK’s leading veterans’ mental health charity, confirmed that such was the demand for its services that it does not have the resources to take on new referrals.
Mr Bano’s call was echoed by Liberal Democrats defence spokesman Jamie Stone, who is leading a cross-party push to ringfence health spending for those in the armed forces, branded the lack of mental health support for veterans “unforgivable”.
The MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross has urged the Government to support a new law that would give veterans and members of the armed forces special status in NHS mental health spending plans.
The move, backed by Labour, the SNP and a former Tory minister, is designed to tackle a “spike” in the number of service personnel who have taken their own lives.
The number of suicides among those in the UK armed forces has steadily risen in recent years.
Ministry of Defence (MoD) statistics show that one person took their own life in 2014, but as many as nine people killed themselves in 2017, while there were a further five suicides in 2018.
At the same time as demand is rising, two out of four MoD mental health centres were rated as inadequate or needing improvement by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) between April 2017 and January 2019.
A report published last year by MPs on the Commons Defence Committee said it was a ‘scandal’ that the NHS budget of more than £150 billion earmarked less than £10 million annually – just 0.007 per cent – to veteran-specific mental health services.
Mr Stone and supporters, who include Labour shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith and ex-trade minister Mark Garnier, have written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak calling on him to ringfence funding for mental health support to veterans and those in the armed forces in his Budget.
In a bid to drive the message home, the Lib Dem MP put his National Health Service Expenditure Bill before Parliament on Tuesday, 25th February. Calling for ministers to support his law change, Mr Stone said: “People who have served in our armed forces have often risked their lives for our country. It is unforgivable that we do not look after them in return.
“Cuts to the NHS, under this Conservative government, have led to dramatic falls in psychiatric staff and the conditions at MoD mental health centres.
“With a spike in suicide among service families, the Government must commit to proper support for people who risk so much for their country.”
Under-strain charity Combat Stress, which backs the Bill, said 80 per cent of the veterans it treats found their needs were “not met” on the NHS.
“The government needs to ringfence funding for specialist services, such as ours, that understand and can successfully treat those veterans with complex post-traumatic stress disorder,” said the charity’s chief executive Sue Freeth. “There is a significant funding gap for veterans with complex mental health needs who need intensive clinical rehabilitation and struggle to access this support.
“Faced with significantly scaling back our services due to a reduction in funding, we are holding urgent talks with the Government, calling on them to step up for veterans and bridge the gap.”
Addressing Combat Stress’ situation on social media, Armed Forces Minister Johnny Mercer said: “In April I’ll be launching an armed forces strategywhich will follow through on our debt to veterans and ensure healthcare provision comes from the NHS.”
Picture: A British Soldier during a live-fire exercise. (Sgt. Timothy Hamlin/Planetpix/Zuma Press/PA).