Former British Army boss brands UK's veteran suicide crisis the 'epidemic of our time'

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BRITAIN’S veteran suicide crisis has been branded part of the ‘epidemic of our time’ by the former head of the British Army, who admitted more needs to be done to stop traumatised troops from killing themselves. 

General Lord Richard Dannatt admitted he was appalled by the number of people taking their lives in the UK and described the situation as a ‘tragedy’.

General Lord Richard Dannatt, former head of the army, visiting Forgotten Veterans UK at Fort Cumberland, Eastney, Portsmouth. Here he is pictured at a retreat where there are memorial plants dedicated to those that died in combat and  from a result of mental health trauma.  'Picture: Habibur Rahman

General Lord Richard Dannatt, former head of the army, visiting Forgotten Veterans UK at Fort Cumberland, Eastney, Portsmouth. Here he is pictured at a retreat where there are memorial plants dedicated to those that died in combat and from a result of mental health trauma. 'Picture: Habibur Rahman

His comments came as he threw his weight behind The News’s award-winning ‘Veterans in Crisis’ campaign calling on coroners to record how many forces heroes kill themselves every year.

Leading military and mental health charities said such data would save lives, and accused Whitehall of ‘turning a blind eye’ to the issue after an investigation revealed no such system in place in the UK – unlike the USA, Canada and Australia.

The investigation led to a major debate in parliament and secured a change in government policy earlier this year.

Speaking exclusively to The News during a visit to Eastney’s Fort Cumberland, the General said he backed the campaign ‘110 per cent’ and said it was something he had ‘pushed hard for’ in the House of Lords.

He said: ‘The coroners’ service ought to record people with a service background who have taken their own lives. I find it quite extraordinary that that has not been the case until now.’

Military charity sources fear 519 veterans in the UK have killed themselves since the start of last year – although there is no concrete figure to support this.

READ MORE: News campaign sees results as MPs agree to look again at veteran suicides 

However, General Lord Dannatt, who was in charge of the army from 2006 to 2008, said the tragedy was not one exclusive to military personnel.

He said civilians, with no connection to the forces, were increasingly taking their own lives.

In 2018 across the UK and Republic of Ireland, a staggering 6,859 people killed themselves, according to charity Samaritans, with the UK recording a 10.9 per cent rise in the suicide rate in 2018.

‘This is an epidemic of our time,’ added General Lord Dannatt. ‘It’s a symptom of our time and the downside of social media, which can bring a lot of unwanted additional pressure on people.

‘I think 21st century living has accentuated a lot of problems for some people. The tragedy is that taking your own life is a permanent solution to what should be a temporary problem.’

Lord Dannatt’s comments came during a visit to Portsmouth-based military support group Forgotten Veterans UK, which is based in Fort Cumberland. 

The organisation, staffed by volunteers, has helped hundreds of suicidal veterans since being set up two years ago.

Lord Dannatt admitted the government and larger organisations should have acted fasted to tackle the veteran suicide crisis.

He added: ‘Should the government have done more? Yes. Should some of the more established charities have woken up earlier and done more? Yes.

‘If the answer had been that either of those organisations had done more sooner then we wouldn’t need organisations like Forgotten Veterans to grow up from the grassroots.’ 

Those feeling suicidal are urged to call the Samaritans on 116 123, or email jo@samaritans.org