CAMPAIGNERS have accused bureaucrats at Whitehall of continuing to bury their heads in the sand and refusing to heed cries to do more to tackle veteran suicide rates.
For the past few months, The News has been calling on the Ministry of Defence to up its game and do more for former troops traumatised by the horrors of war.
It comes after an investigation by this paper revealed no records were kept by the MoD of the number of veterans taking their lives – sparking claims the government was ‘turning a blind eye’ to the issue.
But now, months after campaigners demanded changes to bring the UK in line with its allies like America and Canada – who do record veteran suicides – The News has learned the Ministry of Defence still hasn’t taken action.
It comes after a parliamentary question tabled by campaign-backer Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP.
He asked the MoD ‘what discussions’ it has had with the Ministry of Justice on establishing a new protocol, which would force coroners to record whether a person was a veteran or a serving member of the armed forces when they died.
Responding, veterans minister Tobias Ellwood was forced to admit: ‘No such discussions have taken place.’
The admission has infuriated veterans, who said they feel betrayed by the inaction.
Retired soldier Stephen James, 31, of Portsmouth set up veterans support charity All Call Signs two months ago, with fellow soldier Daniel Arnold.
The dad-of-six, who overcame suicidal thoughts after his time in the army, said: ‘It’s a betrayal by this government to not keep track of people who lose their lives through the hidden wounds of war.
‘All of our allies do it – Germany does it, America does it, so do Australia and Canada. It’s an embarrassment that our government is failing to take action.
‘They continue to feed us with the same boring line that they’re “looking into it”. Well clearly they’re not.’
On Sunday, Mr James and Mr Arnold spoke with Britain’s first suicide prevention minister, Jackie Doyle-Price – who was appointed by Theresa May last week – on how the UK needs to do more to track suicide rates among veterans.
It comes after All Call Signs met with Mr Morgan and Portsmouth North MP, Penny Mordaunt, to raise their concerns.
Labour MP Mr Morgan said it was ‘incredibly disappointing’ the government was ‘dragging their feet’ on the issue.
‘It’s a simple change that would make a huge difference to veterans mental health services.
‘This type of coroner recording is something our allies in Canada, USA, and Australia all do and we need to catch up. The MoD currently report suicide amongst veterans as lower than average simply because our data collection is so poor.
‘There really is no excuse for the government’s inaction on this and I’ll continue to raise the issue with ministers. We owe service personnel far better than to turn a blind eye,’ he said.
In his response, Mr Ellwood stood by the government’s work on suicide rates, citing studies conducted into suicide levels of 1990/91 Gulf War and Falkland veterans.
However, he didn’t mention a study into veterans from the most recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sue Freeth, chief executive of forces charity Combat Stress, said: ‘We believe it’s important to know how many veterans take their own lives so we can assess how big an issue this is.
‘The last major research into veteran suicides in the UK was 2009. We cannot rely on out of date statistics and urgently need another study, which will also take into account the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.’
Mr Ellwood added: ‘The Ministry of Defence takes the welfare of service personnel and veterans very seriously and has published studies on the causes of death, including suicide, of veterans.’
Veterans in need of support services can get help from by calling the 24-hour veterans' mental health helpline on 0800 138 1619 or accessing the Veterans Gateway at https://www.veteransgateway.org.uk