Ministry of Defence to step up effort to tackle veteran suicide crisis, ministers reveal

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LEADING defence ministers are drawing up a major action plan to tackle Britain’s veteran suicide crisis, it can be revealed today.

In a victory for The News, the Ministry of Defence has bowed to public pressure and will now take greater action to protect future loss of life among the nation’s ex-forces community.

It follows an investigation, spearheaded by this paper and its parent company JPIMedia, revealed the nation didn’t record the number of veterans killing themselves.

The government had been accused of turning a blind eye to the issue, with the study revealing that the UK did not monitor the number of veterans taking their lives, unlike allies such as the USA, Canada and Australia.

Defence secretary Penny Mordaunt has now drafted new proposals which will include expanding on-going studies and creating a suicide monitoring procedure.

Robert McCartney, of forces charity Beyond the Battlefield, said the Veterans in Crisis campaign could take ‘huge credit’ for the developments.

‘Nothing was happening on this issue before the JPIMedia series shone a spotlight on them,’ he said.

‘It was clear that the publicity put panic into everyone. Before that I had met with three or four senior MoD ministers and there was no movement. But afterwards, the ideas that had been discarded due to expense were taken out and progressed.’

A study announced in October into deaths among veterans who served between 2001 and 2014 will now be expanded to include more recent service leavers, the MoD said.

It will be updated on an ongoing basis to provide near-real time monitoring of suicides.

A further study into ex-service personnel who take their own lives will look at risk factors in the year leading up to a suicide.

In addition, the 2021 census will collect data on service history for the first time to build a clearer picture of the number of UK veterans.

Dan Arnold, co-founder of the Southsea-based military support group All Call Signs, welcomed the news and said it was ‘imperative' real-time data was collected.

‘It’s really, really good that these conversations are now happening and hopefully this will be the first in big steps looking into proper care and provisions of veterans,’ added the retired soldier.

Portsmouth North MP Ms Mordaunt told The News the data collected will be critical in supporting veterans.

‘Every suicide is a tragedy and the loss of a veteran is always felt throughout the entire armed forces community, as well as with the families and friends who are left behind,’ she said.

‘It’s vital we work across government to better understand the number of ex-service personnel who take their lives, as well as the causes.’

But shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith called for coroners to do more to record instances of veteran suicides.

She said: ‘We know that there is a lack of comprehensive data on these cases. That is why we support calls from veterans’ charities to ensure that coroners record that important data, just as our US and Canadian allies do.

‘The government must act urgently to legislate for this now so that we can better support those who have given so much in the service of our country.’

Other actions unveiled by the MoD to support at-risk veterans include:

# Plans to ask service personnel transitioning into civilian life for permission to contact them in future and signpost them towards support, if required;

# Better monitoring of veterans accessing Universal Credit;

# The appointment of the first armed forces mental health and wellbeing champion, Warrant Office Glenn Haughton, who served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, Jim Wilds, of Veterans United Against Suicide, was not convinced by the new measures and accused ministers of ‘lip-service’.

The former British Army Warrant Officer – who served for almost 25 years in the military – said: ‘These comments have been said to appease folks, and divert attention,’

Appealing for immediate action, he said Whitehall needed to ‘walk the walk’ not ‘talk the talk’.

’A census may help in as much as recording whether a member of the household has ever served with the forces, but details of the suicide are still needed at coroner level, and a census will not record that,’ Mr Wilds added.

HELPLINE NUMBERS

Combat Stress: 0800 138 1619

Help for Heroes: 01980 844280

RBL: 0808 802 8080

Veterans UK (MoD pensions/compensation): 0808 1914218

The Samaritans: 116123

Alcoholics Anon: 0800 8177 650

Vets’ Gateway: 0808 802 1212