Ministry of Defence pledge £500k to kick-start study into veteran suicide crisis 

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DEFENCE chiefs have vowed to pump in £500,000 into researching the suicide rates among war heroes from the UK’s most recent conflicts, it can be revealed.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has allotted the cash injection to find out how many veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are killing themselves.

M Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines, carrying out Operation Volcano against Taliban forces in the village of Barikyu in Nothern Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2008. Photo: PA/MoD

M Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines, carrying out Operation Volcano against Taliban forces in the village of Barikyu in Nothern Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2008. Photo: PA/MoD

The major cash surge will fund the first year of the project, which armed forces campaigners hope will shine a light on the true number of traumatised modern-day veterans taking their lives.

And the MoD said it would commit a further £53,560 a year to continue monitoring the death rates of the cohort of war veterans.

All the cash was green-lit by Lieutenant General Richard Nugee, chief of defence people at Whitehall.

The funding pledge came after mounting public outcry over the government’s former stance in monitoring suicide rates in retired troops following an investigation by The News and its parent company JPIMedia.

The study uncovered the damning truth that Britain had no such system in place to record veteran suicides, unlike international allies like America, Canada and Australia.

Retired soldiers and charity leaders have welcomed the latest measure. Stephen James, co-founder of Portsmouth-based armed forces group All Call Signs  – which fights to save vulnerable veterans from taking their own lives – said: ‘At this point, it's just a relief to see this problem finally being addressed and taken seriously.

‘But let’s look at that £500,000 figure: it’s a completely avoidable expenditure, if we just get coroners to record service history at inquest level, the same as every one of our allies.’

‘Spend the money, do the research now, but for the sake of the 63 veterans and service personnel we've buried this year, instruct coroners to record veteran suicide.’

Last month the government agreed it would set up a new demand for coroners to record veteran suicides.

The latest study will be similar to one previously approved by the government to monitor suicide rates among Gulf War and Falklands veterans.

In a series of questions from The News to Whitehall, the MoD revealed it would monitor the cohort of veterans ‘for their lifetime’.

Defence staff will work in tandem with the NHS and the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to deliver the initial project, with the MoD confirming ‘two full-time equivalent’ staff have been appointed to analyse the data and compile reports.

As well as involving the health service and ONS, the MoD is also joining forces with two of the nation’s leading universities, Kings College London and Imperial College London.

Official MoD figures showed 3.1 per cent of serving personnel are diagnosed with mental health conditions - 1.4 per cent below the civilian population but twice the proportion seen in 2008-09.

But campaigners said mental health issues can manifest years after people retire from the armed forces and fear the true number of troops killing themselves is far higher.

Sue Freeth, chief executive of forces charity Combat Stress, previously told The News accurate figures of suicide rates were vital in helping to produce strategies to tackle the problem.

Dr Dominic Murphy, head of research and senior clinical lecturer at Combat Stress,welcomed the new project and said: ‘This study will allow us to better understand what the true rates of suicide are within this population.

‘That said, any suicide is one too many and has devastating impacts, so Combat Stress would also welcome additional support being provided, aimed at preventing suicide.’

Veterans minister Tobias Ellwood said: ‘Mental health problems can affect us all, and the well-being of our people remains a top priority.

‘By conducting this vital new study, we are furthering our understanding of the well-being of our people so we can continue to provide the best possible care to all who have served.’

The first set of results by spring next year, will annual updates thereafter.