At least two veterans, supported by Eastney-based charity Forgotten Veterans UK (FVUK), have killed themselves in the past month, the organisation’s head, Gary Weaving has admitted.
It comes as overwhelmed volunteers at the foundation have seen their workload ‘go through the roof’ since December, dealing with almost one suicidal veteran every day.
The emergency is one of the worst sudden surges seen by the FVUK and has ignited fresh fears of a resurgent veteran suicide crisis.
The two deaths took place within days of each other just before the New Year and left the military community in Portsmouth shocked. One of the veterans had been a ‘very regular client’ at FVUK, with the other being a former soldier from Portsmouth.
Gary, who had previously tried to take his own life on two occasions after being discharged from the army following a crippling spinal injury, said he was devastated by the tragedies.
Speaking to The News, the crestfallen former Royal Engineer said: ‘This has been heartbreaking. We give everything we can and do everything we can.
‘We will do what most people aren’t prepared to do. And when it’s not working, it breaks our heart.
‘We had a week of being very down and glum and questioning ourselves. But we have now picked ourselves up and know we are making a difference.
‘We dread to think to how many suicides we have prevented.’
During the past 12 months, Gary’s team has supported more than 4,000 veterans from their base at Fort Cumberland.
But since December, the group has been scrambled to rescue 30 suicidal veterans, Gary said.
‘Our workload has gone through the roof and it is just getting busier and busier and busier,’ he added.
Speaking of the latest death, Gary continued: ‘We lost one of our clients only three weeks ago. He was a long-term client.
‘He turned up when we had a documentary crew at camp and left a beautiful testimonial about how we had helped get him off cocaine.
‘He was saying he was in such a better place and was saying how. Four days later he killed himself. I blame myself for this.’
Since 2018, The News and other campaigners from across the city, has been calling on the government to do more to tackle the veteran suicide crisis – branded the ‘epidemic of our time’ by the former head of the army, General Lord Richard Dannatt.
The News’s award-winning ‘Veterans in Crisis’ campaign called on coroners to record how many military heroes killed themselves every year.
In September, the effort clinched a huge victory, as the government announced it was launching a new method to record veteran suicides in England and Wales, having previously set up the new Office For Veterans’ Affairs.
But Gary said this had not gone far enough, and is appealing for Whitehall to create a new veterans’ ‘social services’ system, to give former troops access to tailor-made benefits, housing and health support.
He added: ‘The reality is it hasn’t been enough and the system is still failing us. The government have upped their game, the NHS and large charities have upped their game but it is still a very tricky world.’
Labour’s former shadow armed forces minister, Stephen Morgan, insisted charities like FVUK deserved ‘better support from central government’.
Describing the latest spate of deaths as ‘terribly sad news’, the Portsmouth South MP added: ‘While government has finally agreed to record veteran suicides after myself and others campaigned for this for some time, ministers continue to dither and delay on publishing its new veterans strategy and tackle the wider issues head on.
‘Veterans in Portsmouth and across the country need action now. They cannot continue to be left as an afterthought by government.’
Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP and former defence secretary, said more funding is needed to support grassroots charities like FVUK and pledged to do what she can to help.
The Tory trade minister added: ‘The work Gary and his team does is life-saving, but they must be backed up by statutory services. Today is Blue Monday - the lowest point of the year for many people, for long-known reasons. We know intervention from groups like FVUK works and that is why it needs to be funded.’
In September, prime minister Boris Johnson announced a £5m of additional cash to help armed forces charities supporting those who have served.
Veterans minister Leo Docherty said: ‘This targeted increase in funding to charities, both large and small, will allow those who served to receive a gold standard of care across the board.
‘We are forever grateful to the serving personnel and veterans who aided the people of Afghanistan, and will ensure they get the support they need and deserve in the most accessible methods possible.’
Shadow veterans minister Stephanie Peacock said: ‘Every case of a veteran taking their own life is heartbreaking, and it is extremely worrying that charities are dealing with more calls than ever from those seeking help.
Ministers are failing to understand the scale of this issue, and will not even publish figures on veterans suicide until 2023.
‘We must ensure veterans and their families have the right support, and Labour would boost veterans’ mental health funding by £35m.
‘Service charities also provide invaluable assistance and ministers must work with organisations to resolve any difficulties that have resulted from the pandemic to ensure services are not cut. We cannot allow veterans to feel alone in their greatest hour of need.’
Need help or want to help?
IF you or your family is suffering – or you just want to donate – contact Forgotten Veterans UK here:
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 023 9325 6738
For additional support:
:: Call Veterans Gateway on 0808 802 1212 or see veteransgateway.org.uk
:: Call Samaritans on 116 123 or see samaritans.org