The House of Commons Defence Committee has recommended more resources should be devoted to address mental health issues in the military. The Committee welcomes the fact that more servicemen are prepared to come forward with mental health issues, but indicates that this will put more pressure on the existing system. The conclusions come in the “The Armed Forces Covenant in Action Part 5: Military Casualties, a review of progress,” published Thursday.
In 2011, the Committee found that the MOD provided first class medical treatment and rehabilitation for wounded and injured personnel. But the Committee were concerned about the longer term support for those who developed severe and life-limiting, physical, mental health or neurological problems in later life.
Armed Forces personnel as a whole suffer similar rates of mental health problems to the general population. But those deployed in combat roles exhibit twice the usual rates of post-traumatic stress. Reservists on operational tours exhibit twice as much stress as the regulars but the MOD has yet to fully understand why this is or how to deal with it.
The Committee found that the mental health challenges of military personnel is also intrinsically linked to hazardous levels of alcohol consumption within the armed forces.
Although Armed Forces personnel have a lower rate of criminal offending than the general population, the rate for violent incidents is substantially higher, particularly amongst those who have previously been deployed in combat roles and those who misuse alcohol. The MoD needs to understand better the links between deployment, alcohol misuse and violent behaviour especially domestic violence. In particular, there has been no research as to the incidence of domestic violence amongst Armed Forces personnel.
The Committee also found a 'shocking' backlog in the processing of claims for War Pensions and for the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme. The Committee is concerned that the demand for support from the Defence Recovery Capability already exceeds supply. Veterans need more support navigating the overlapping bureaucracy of the health system. Despite assurances from the MoD and the Department of Health, the Committee is concerned that, as operations in Afghanistan and Iraq fade from the public’s mind and personnel move on to other lives, the necessary long term support for those injured physically and psychologically will not be maintained. The MoD, in conjunction with the Health Service, has introduced some measures to support veterans with mental health problems and amputees but other conditions also require this focus. The MoD should monitor the results of its work and report the outcomes in its annual report on the Armed Forces Covenant.
Chairman of the Committee, Rory Stewart MP, says
"The Armed Forces is perhaps the most impressive and effective institution in Britain today, and an inspiration to the rest of the country. But there is clearly a correlation between combat operations and challenges in mental health, and we must do all we can to support people through this. Our men and women have displayed great courage and gallantry throughout the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq; hundreds have lost their lives and thousands have been seriously wounded. British society has a unique debt of gratitude, and an obligation to look after citizens who have risked their lives for their country. We need to have the confidence that the MOD will continue to look after these people and their families should they ever suffer from any ill-effects of their service. The MoD has made some significant steps in the right direction over the last few years, but more needs to be done, particularly in relation to mental health."