Minister updates MPs on support for veterans' mental health

12 March 2020

The Minister for Defence People and Veterans has made a statement on the mental health of military veterans after a number of servicemen ended their lives.

Earlier this month, media reports found that around 14 UK military veterans had died by suicide in the last two months, with 150 former servicemen dying since January 2018. Service people who served in Afghanistan and Iraq were particularly affected.

Minister Johnny Mercer updated MPs on the Government's plans to address the situation.

Johnny Mercer: "one is too many"

Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Johnny Mercer, told the House that the Defence Minister had conducted an internal review into suicides amongst UK veterans. He said that the number of servicemen taking their own lives was lower than in the general population, but that we should not be "complacent".

Mr Mercer stated that reports that suicide amongst veterans was an "epidemic" were a "false narrative", although "one is too many".

The Minister announced that he would launch a long-term study into the mental health of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also promised to reduce suicide risk by "tackling stigma", education and access to mental health support.

He concluded:

"It requires everyone to play a role—to speak out, to reach out, to look after yourselves and each other. And never, ever give up."

Stephen Morgan: "much more that needs to be done"

Responding on behalf of the Opposition, Shadow Defence and Communities Minister, Stephen Morgan, said that "there is still much more that needs to be done".

He highlighted the face that in Wednesday's Budget 0.007% of NHS funding was allocated to the mental health of veterans and questioned what extra funding the Minister would be seeking.

Mr Morgan said that the scale of the problem was not fully known, as coroners in the UK do not record veterans' suicides. He told MPs that this made it harder to provide support and stage interventions, and asked the Minister what plans there were to improve recording practices.

The Shadow Minister also questioned what proposals were in place to support the transition post-service, noting that it takes most veterans four years to seek support for mental health issues, but the MOD only follows up around one year after discharge.

He said:

"It is only just, fair and right that we have veterans’ mental health care provision worthy of these men and women."

Image: Ministry of Defence 

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