w/c 10th October 2022
Hardly a week goes by without the UK media carrying a story about the unsatisfactory care doled out to Britain’s ex-service men and women by our government(s). Whilst most former military personnel make a relatively smooth transition back into civilian life, a sizeable minority makes up a disproportionate part of the homeless and prison populations. And all too frequently some take their own lives.
In the UK, historically government practice has been to pass on the care of veterans to the tender mercies of the charitable and health and social care sectors. This remains the case even today, and I would suggest is hardly in the spirit of the Military Covenant much trumpeted by hand-wringing politicians.
And yet some in the veterans’ community believe that this arrangement is too much at arm’s length and pays only lip service to the issues. Nobody doubts the energy, enthusiasm and good intentions of these charities’ workers, but it all seems a bit ad hoc, with much duplication of effort. There is no guarantee that the government’s generous funding is always wisely spent, and also some suspicion that the myriad of chief executive posts these charities support offer an all too convenient revolving cavalcade of sinecures for retired senior officers.
There is surely a better way to ensure our veterans are better looked after. Britain could establish, for example, a Department for Veterans’ Affairs, rather as the USA, Australia and Canada have done. A department of government staffed by civil servants and headed by a cabinet secretary or government minister would have greater political muscle and act as a focal point for all ex-services matters, instead of the sometimes baffling array of charitable bodies which confront those exiting the armed forces.
The responsibilities of any such department should include the four main topics most important to veterans: health, housing, education and training, and employment. Who knows, if the UK were to go down this road we might at some point in the future have our own veterans’ hospital, for example, prioritised for, but not necessarily exclusively catering to, the particular needs of those who have served. Those who return from active service damaged in body and mind would surely benefit.
All that is required is the political will to drive the change. Which political party will pick up the challenge? Those who we, the electorate, put it harm’s way deserve the best aftercare we can give them – and that’s clearly not the case at the moment.