SUICIDE rates among veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are finally to be studied by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) after a campaign by The News.
Veterans minister Tobias Ellwood caved in to mounting public pressure following a probe by this paper in July, which revealed the UK held no data on veteran suicide rates.
Since then, The News, and its parent company Johnston Press, has been lobbying for the MoD to work with coroners to track the data, which charity leaders said would be vital in working out how best to help traumatised war heroes.
However, last week The News revealed how – despite the demands – the government had not taken any action, which sparked fury from campaigners and veteran soldiers.
Now Mr Ellwood has finally announced the MoD will launch a study into the issue after The Sunday Times revealed over the weekend that at least 42 current soldiers killed themselves this year.
He said: ‘Our armed forces do a magnificent job, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to each man and woman who has laid their life on the line to keep our country safe.
‘Most transition successfully into civilian life once they have put away their uniforms, but we cannot afford to be complacent. Mental health problems can affect us all, and the well-being of our people remains a top priority.’
The announcement has been welcomed by armed forces charity, Combat Stress.
Sue Freeth, chief executive of Combat Stress, said: ‘We welcome the government’s announcement that they will study suicide rates among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
‘The only UK study on veteran suicide was completed in 2009. Knowing how many veterans have taken their own lives since will reveal whether the issue is getting bigger. With accurate facts and figures, significant trends can be identified and monitored.’
Allied nations like the US, Australia and Canada all record the number of veteran suicides.
However, a study by The News revealed that of the 98 coroners in England and Wales, and their equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland just one was able to provide data on the number of veterans who have taken their lives since 2015.
In July, the House of Commons defence committee published its latest study on the scale of the issue, warning the number of armed forces personnel seeking help had almost doubled since 2008.
Official MoD figures showed that 3.1 per cent of those serving had been diagnosed with mental health conditions, which was twice as many as in 2008/9.
However, campaigners fear this is just the tip of the iceberg, with hundreds more veterans battling PTSD or depression.
Mrs Freeth said: ‘In the last decade, the number of veterans seeking help from Combat Stress has increased by 97 per cent, with more than 2,000 new veterans coming to us each year.
‘Every life is precious and we want to do all we can to prevent former servicemen and women taking their own lives.’
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org in the UK.
Alternatively call the 24-hour Combat Stress helpline on 0800 1381619 or visit combatstress.org.uk.