MP hosts debate on Veterans’ Mental Health
5:42pm 7th March 2012
Earlier today, Julian Sturdy, Member of Parliament for York Outer, hosted a Westminster Hall debate on veterans’ mental health.
At the very start of the debate, however, Mr Sturdy paid tribute to the courageous yet tragic sacrifice of the six British servicemen, five of whom serve with the Yorkshire Regiment, who are reported as missing, feared dead in Afghanistan. Mr Sturdy said that his thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the soldiers at what must be a devastating time.
Over the past two decades, British troops have been involved in a range of conflicts from Bosnia and Kosovo to Afghanistan and Iraq, and as such there has been an increasing focus on the mental impact that such experiences have on our brave servicemen and women. However, each and every year 22,000 Armed Forces personnel leave the Service and around 27.2% sadly go on to suffer from a common mental disorder. There are also strong links between veterans and homelessness as well as substance abuse.
Throughout his opening speech, Mr Sturdy commended the work of successive governments in recent years and praised a number of charitable groups such as the Royal British Legion and Combat Stress who carry out such tremendous work on behalf of both serving and retired service personnel.
The second phase of Mr Sturdy’s contribution was to seek assurances that the momentum will not be lost and that the Government will continue to provide support and funding for a number of veteran-related services over the long-term future. For example, over the past year the Government has provided funding for a 24hr telephone line for veterans who suffer from mental health problems. Ensuring that this funding will continue is extremely important and Mr Sturdy secured such assurances today.
In the third part of his speech, Mr Sturdy urged the responding Government Minister, Simon Burns MP, to ensure that the many different initiatives and support packages available to veterans are delivered effectively under a coherent strategy to ensure that veterans do not fall through the net in years to come.
Over the past few months Mr Sturdy has worked closely with the Royal British Legion who fully backed today’s debate and provided a briefing document to all backbench MPs.
In his speech, Mr Sturdy said:
“When we think of sacrifices made by Armed Forces personnel it is only right that we take into consideration the mental strains placed upon our brave servicemen and women, not only the often terrifying physical risks undertaken.”
“For those Armed Forces personnel who leave the service each year having directly experienced action in recent operations, the transition from service life to civilian life is often a traumatic process. For many the future is uncertain and due to the stigma surrounding mental health many sufferers either fail to seek help for mental health issues upon leaving the Service, or do so at a dangerously late stage.”
“Our work in scrutinising this and future Governments must never cease. We have a duty to monitor, assess and push those at the very top to ensure that veterans are at the top of our leaders’ agendas.”
In response, Mr Burns replied:
“Over the course of the spending review period, the Government is providing an extra £7 million for veterans whom suffer from mental health difficulties. We owe it to veterans to get this right and the help we offer must be accessible throughout the duration of veterans’ lives and not simply when they leave the service. I am extremely pleased to report that the Department of Health will continue to fund the veterans’ telephone line as raised by my Hon. Friend the Member for York Outer and I can also inform the House that we have increased the number of dedicated nurses working on veterans’ outreach programmes from seven to over fifty.”
Speaking after the debate, Mr Sturdy said:
“I am delighted with the turnout and parliamentary attention that this worthy issue has received today. We have heard of the tragic news earlier this morning that six brave members of our Armed Forces family are missing feared dead. Such awful news really does illustrate the risks undertaken by all those who courageously fight on our behalf abroad, risking their lives, their bodies and their mental well-being for Queen and country.
“I am really encouraged, however, by the broad, cross-party support that issues such as veterans’ mental health provoke. In recent years, politicians and partner bodies such as Combat Stress and the Royal British Legion have worked closely to forge some excellent veteran-focused initiatives, and I am delighted that the Minister of State for Health has today declared that funding for the telephone line and nursing provision has now been secured for the foreseeable future.”
“We must always scrutinise, push and indeed demand that this and future Government’s never lose sight of the long-term impact that war has on members of the Armed Forces family. We must always honour, reward and celebrate their service by ensuring that our country looks after them with the same passion that they show during their service to protect us.”
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