An MoD minister has detailed a substantial action plan after an investigation raised concerns that it was turning a blind eye to reports of “appalling” suicide rates among military veterans.
Major veterans charities have credited the reports – run by the JPIMedia Investigations Team, including the Peterborough Telegraph – with playing a key role in the changes.
Last summer we ran a UK-wide series which found that there is no system to track suicides among the UK’s 2.6 million veterans, despite evidence that thousands struggle with serious PTSD, depression and suicidal thoughts.
By contrast, we found that the US, Australia and Canada all carefully monitor veteran suicides and address the rises that they have found.
Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, a former member of the Westminster Defence Committee and president of the UDR Association, previously told JPI that he was “very concerned” by the “appalling” suicide rates he was seeing, which, although small, were “increasing in incidence”.
However, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt has now announced a raft of solutions, which Veterans Minister Tobias Ellwood has detailed in a letter to DUP MP Jim Shannon.
He said that a Manchester University study announced in October into deaths among veterans who served from 2001-2014 will now be expanded to include “the most recent service leavers”.
It will also be updated on an ongoing basis to provide “near real time monitoring of suicides”. And it will also use records from a national suicide inquiry and coroners files to look into causes.
In addition, the 2021 census will collect veterans’ data for the first time, to build a clear picture of the number of UK veterans.
Robert McCartney of Northern Ireland-based charity Beyond the Battlefield, said the JPI campaign, in which he played a key role, can take “huge credit” for the developments.
“Nothing was happening on this issue before the JPI series shone a spotlight on them,” he said.
“It was clear that the publicity put panic into everyone. Before that I had met with three or four senior MoD ministers and there was no movement. But afterward, the ideas that had been discarded due to expense were taken out and progressed.”
Dr Walter Busuttil, director of Medical Services with national charity Combat Stress, also spoke out in the JPI series. He said the campaign “focused minds and directed experts in the field of military and veteran mental health to point out that British suicide studies needed to be updated, given the last reliable peer reviewed paper was published in 2009”.
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt told JPI that the data collected will be critical in supporting veterans.
“Every suicide is a tragedy and the loss of a veteran is always felt throughout the entire armed forces community, as well as with the families and friends who are left behind,” she told JPI.
“It’s vital we work across Government to better understand the number of ex-service personnel who take their lives, as well as the causes.”
Other actions just unveiled by the MOD to support at-risk veterans include:
. The MoD will seek consent from service personnel transitioning into civilian life to proactively contact them in future to signpost them towards support, if required.
. The Department for Work and Pensions and the MoD will review specific information for veterans receiving benefits, pensions and compensation to ensure they are clearly pointed to where support is available.
. DWP will also introduce an indicator on the Universal Credit system which will allow them to direct resources to where veterans are claiming benefits.
. The appointment of the first Armed Forces Mental Health and Wellbeing Champion, Warrant Office Glenn Haughton OBE, who served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.