Government will finally record veteran suicides after campaign by grieving families
THE government has announced it will finally record the number of veterans taking their own lives, in a momentous victory for armed forces campaigners and bereaved families.
The move by the Ministry of Defence follows years of pressure from The News, which has spearheaded a three-year campaign demanding the government recorded all deaths officially.
Previously, the number of veteran suicides across the UK was totalled unofficially by armed forces groups.
Now the Whitehall has said it will take charge and combine official data over a 10-year period between 2011 and 2021, to understand where dedicated mental health services are needed in England and Wales.
The new reporting method will use data collected from the recent veteran's question in the 2021 Census and match it with data held by the Office of National Statistics on suicides.
The move, announced by veterans minister Leo Docherty, has been welcomed by campaigners.
Viv Johnston, whose special forces hero son Danny, 35, killed himself in May 2018 after losing his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder, was overwhelmed by the announcement.
Speaking to The News, the 64-year-old from Bognor Regis said: ‘This means everything to me. It’s been a long time coming and is something that so many of us have been trying for.
‘Thank God it’s finally happened. It’s going to make such a difference.’
‘Tortured soul’ Danny took his life after a distinguished career in the military, having served first in Portsmouth’s local infantry contingent, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, before then joining the elite Special Reconnaissance Regiment – the sister unit of the famed SAS.
The Afghanistan veteran’s death rocked the armed forces community and sparked a nationwide appeal to document veteran suicide rates officially.
It also shone a tragic light on similar suicides of other military heroes.
Among them was Lance Corporal Dave Jukes, who took his own life just months after Danny, having served the country in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was found hanged in an alleyway on October 9, 2018 behind his home in Quinton, near Birmingham.
His wife, Jo, has been among those campaigning for more to be done to tackle veteran suicide rates in the UK.
In a letter written by veterans minister Mr Docherty to Mrs Jukes – seen by The News – the Tory MP confirmed the plans to create the new reporting tool, the Office for Veterans’ Affairs.
He said: ‘This analysis will help government understand how many veterans die by suicide, understand its prevalence, and better inform future policy and interventions in support of the veteran community.’
He added: ‘As part of the government’s work to make the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran, I am committed to ensuring that all veterans who may be struggling are able to access dedicated support.
‘Every suicide is a tragedy, and our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones to suicide.’
Reacting, Jo said: ‘Today’s announcement was a massive step forward and something we have been campaigning for for three years.’
Viv said she was proud her son’s death had helped to fuel such a huge change in policy but admitted it was frustrating it had taken so long for the government to take the veteran suicide crisis seriously.
‘I’m incredibly proud that Danny’s story has made a difference,’ she added. ‘It’s just a shame it is starting now. I think it would have saved many more lives if it had been introduced sooner.’
Annual data compiled by campaign group Veterans United Against Suicide shows the number has not decreased over the past four years.
It estimated that in 2020, 88 veterans and serving troops took their own lives.
In 2018, the group said 87 ex-forces personnel took their own lives, followed by 78 in 2019. So far 59 veterans have killed themselves this year, according to the organisation.
- Veterans or serving forces personnel in need of mental health, financial or medical support can find information at the Veterans Gateway website, here at veteransgateway.org.uk