Veteran suicides: Defence minister Johnny Mercer vows critical action after meeting Southsea campaigners from All Call Signs

DEFENCE minister Johnny Mercer has vowed to look into fresh measures to end Britain’s veteran suicide epidemic after meeting with forces campaigners.

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 5:23 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 4:42 pm

The veterans minister had a ‘positive’ discussion about tackling the crisis with representatives from Southsea-based military support group, All Call Signs.

Campaigners Stephen James, co-founder of the charity, and Jo Jukes – whose war veteran husband, Dave took his own life in 2018 – put forward ideas that could make a ‘huge difference’.

Now army veteran Mr Mercer has told The News he will take the duo’s proposals to top officials in Whitehall.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

A soldier with the 4th Mechanised Brigade is pictured engaging the enemy during Operation Qalb in Helmand, Afghanistan.

He said: ‘I had a productive meeting with All Call Signs to discuss potential measures for addressing mental health and providing better support for families of veterans who take their lives.

‘A number of ideas were put forward and I will be looking into these with my team.’

It followed an investigation which revealed Britain, unlike allies in Australia, Canada and the US, had no formal system to log when a veteran takes their own life.

The news sparked furious claims the government was turning a ‘blind eye’ to the crisis, with military groups claiming more than 500 veterans had killed themselves since 2018.

Demands for the Ministry of Justice to force every coroner to formally record every veteran suicide have so far not been answered.

Now, All Call Signs have urged Mr Mercer to create a central point of contact to allow military families to report when ex-servicemen and women kill themselves.

The data could be used to create ‘real-time’ statistics that would help identify groups of troops most at risk, retired soldier Stephen James said.

He said: ‘This is something that can be moved forward quickly with very little friction from anyone else. It will circumvent all other third parties.’

Mr James also wants more helpline numbers added into advice books provided by coroners to bereaved relatives, which outline where specific support for military families could be found.

‘Johnny Mercer seemed very enthusiastic about our ideas,’ said Mr James. ‘He seemed genuine. We could see these things happening very quickly.

‘There’s a shared sense of urgency between us and Johnny Mercer’s office to make these things happen.’

Stephen Morgan, Labour’s shadow defence minister, demanded prompt action from Whitehall.

‘So far, the government has done nothing but pass the buck and make excuses,’ said the Portsmouth South MP. ‘All Call Signs have now managed to dodge the minefield of excuses put forward by the government and come up with two very workable solutions.’

Mr Mercer insisted there was ‘work currently ongoing’ to monitor suicide rates on this ‘critical issue’.

He urged suicidal veterans and those with post-traumatic stress disorder to seek support. For help see veteransgateway.org.uk