Veterans in need of urgent care to help them overcome addiction or mental health woes are waiting ‘a year or more’ in some cases for treatment.
The worrying situation was raised during the latest debate of the Common’s powerful defence committee, which oversees military matters.
Mark Francois, the former minister for Portsmouth and ex-armed forces minister, said lives were being needlessly lost due to delays in treatment.
Questioning what could be done to fix the issuing blighting the NHS, the Tory MP for Rayleigh and Wickford added: ‘On the one hand [the NHS] is quite good at early diagnosis but the systemic failure is in many cases having diagnosed veterans as needing urgent help, there are still long delays of up to a year or more before those veterans actually enter into an active treatment programme and in some instances, in the intervening period, very sadly a number of them take their own lives.’
It comes as a top military commander warned that those in most desperate need were facing ‘difficulties’ with a ‘bizarre’ system, which leaves them trapped in limbo.
Lieutenant General Sir Nick Pope, who is the head of the Confederation of Service Charities (Cobseo), said veterans were being ‘societally’ failed.
He told the defence committee: ‘The difficulty with the system right now is that if you want to be treated for addiction you can’t necessarily do that until your mental health issues are solved. If you want to be treated for mental health, you can’t do that until your addiction issues are resolved.
‘So you have got this bizarre outcome where those people at most need are unable to access services because you have got different structures in government who can’t resolve complicated, cross-government issues in either social care, in mental health or in addiction or whatever.’
He added: ‘There are people out there who we, societally, are failing and they are the most difficult people to look after, and we need to find a mechanism to reach out to those people.’
In Portsmouth, the impact of the problem is being felt by charity chiefs at Forgotten Veterans UK, which supports scores of suicidal forces personnel.
Gary Weaving, founder of the Eastney-based group, said some veterans were waiting for up to two years to receive cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help treat their PTSD.
The retired Royal Engineer warned a new system was urgently needed to support those with addiction and mental health issues.
‘I’ve been pushing for a veteran-only addiction and mental health secure unit from the start that is addressing both issues at the same time,’ said Gary. ‘This is the only real answer to those with multiple mental and physical problems.’
He added: ‘We are sweeping up many veterans with addictions because of the risk to life. If you don’t give those with addiction hope and clarity of their situation how are they ever going to get the strength to deal with their problems? With no hope and achievable goals their addiction gets worse and so does the disparity of suicidal tendencies.
‘The worst veterans either end up killing themselves waiting for treatment or once they have had CBT realise their actual physical problems still exist and then kill themselves once they realise there’s been no actual change in their lives. ‘
Charles Byrne, director general of Royal British Legion, told the defence committee things were improving, with the launch of Op Courage – a new mental health support system for veterans – and with the creation of the Office for Veterans Affairs.
‘There are some good initiatives, some good intent (but), some patchy delivery,’ he added.
The issue comes just weeks after veterans warned The News that delays in treatment were putting lives at risk.
Since 2018, this paper has campaigned for the government to tackle the veteran suicide crisis and deliver more support for British troops.
The campaign was ignited by the death of special forces hero Danny Johnston, who formerly served with Portsmouth’s infantry unit, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.
Last month, Danny’s mother Viv Johnston accused the government of ‘having blood on its hands’ following the news of a sudden surge in veteran suicides in the city this year.
The News has approached NHS England for comment about the issues raised during the defence committee hearing.
However, the NHS did not respond to our requests when we went to publication.
:: Veterans looking for support should contact the Veterans’ Gateway at veteransgateway.org.uk or by calling 0808 802 1212.