The vast majority of veterans leave with no mental damage, and suggestions to the contrary may actually discourage those who need help from seeking it. The Committee also believes that too much attention may be being placed on PTSD, whereas conditions such as depression are much more common.
The MoD has reported that some 3% of serving personnel were diagnosed with mental health problems last year – a significant increase over the previous decade, but still slightly lower than the level found within the general population. However, as the Department can record only those who seek help, its data probably underestimate the true figure. Academic research suggests that about 10% of veterans who served over the past 20 years may eventually develop mental health problems requiring treatment, with some groups – such as soldiers in combat roles, as well as Reservists – being at higher risk following deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq.
Provision of Care
The MPs believe that more must be done to care for the small minority of serving personnel and veterans who do suffer mental health problems. According to the Committee “it is still taking too long for veterans to access treatment when they need it, and levels of care vary across the UK”. Some Service leavers are also “still falling through the gaps”, especially during transition to civilian life.
The Committee intends to examine this further and, having completed its examination of the scale of the problem, is today launching its follow-up inquiry into the adequacy of the provision of mental health care to serving personnel and veterans.
One of the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant is that, when conditions are Service-related, veterans should receive priority treatment subject to clinical need. Yet the Committee found that this principle has been inconsistently applied. There is palpable confusion over how to implement it, and this adds to the perception that the Health Service is failing veterans. The Committee urges the Ministry of Defence to clarify the position as part of its forthcoming Veterans Strategy.
A lack of regional understanding
The Committee also found that the MoD has an inadequate understanding of the extent of veterans' mental health issues across the UK. The provision of healthcare may be devolved, but the MoD is still accountable for how the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant are implemented. More needs to be done to assess to what extent numbers of veterans with mental health problems might vary across the four nations.
Defence Committee chairman, Dr Julian Lewis MP, says:
"Contrary to public perception, most Servicemen and women leave with no mental ill-health and, to help veterans, we need to dispel the myth that many suffer psychological harm. But the MoD must ensure that the few who do develop mental health problems are receiving the level of care promised to them in the Armed Forces Covenant. At the moment they are not, and we shall examine the situation in more detail in our follow-up inquiry, launched today."
Ruth Smeeth MP's comments
Defence Committee member and Chair of the APPG for the Armed Forces Covenant, Ruth Smeeth MP, says:
"Effective support during transition, as you leave the military, is essential to ensure that our service personnel experience a positive move into civilian life without any unnecessary stress. If they are already receiving support for mental health issues while serving, they must receive what they need as they move into NHS care. Yet, clearly, some leavers are falling through the gaps and the MoD needs to do much better in working with health economies across the UK to stop this from happening."
Image: Ministry of Defence