There are many reasons that one chooses to put oneself forward to be a Member of Parliament. Seldom is anything as it first appears, and this job would align with that.
But as I returned from my third combat tour of Afghanistan in four years at the end of 2010, it was becoming clear to me that whilst great strides had been made since the start of the war in Afghanistan, there was still a huge void in Veteran’s care in the UK.
The charity sector had stood up to meet the challenge. The great British public had lost none of it’s sense of duty towards those who fight our battles. As the bill for the wounded and injured from Afghanistan and Iraq became painfully apparent, some wonderful charities and foundations were created, and our more longstanding ones evolved to meet that challenge set before them.
This was perversely matched by an increasing reliance by the Government of the day on the Charity sector to deliver our duty – for it is that – to look after our Servicemen and women when they came home. Veteran’s care was not part of the battle as far as the UK Government was concerned.
How wrong they were. In many other countries we have fought alongside in recent years, Veteran’s care has become part of the fight. The Department for Veterans affairs in the US; the Department for Veteran’s Affairs in Australia; the Veterans Affairs Department in Canada have become established Government departments. They recognise the duty owed by the Government to ensure our Veteran’s care.
It would be unfair to not mention our current Government’s efforts. This Prime Minister has done more than any before him in this cause. I have met him on this issue; he gets it. But we must now go further.
Charities and foundations have become bastions of best practice – they must continue to deliver the care. But the ultimate responsibility for veterans cares lies with the State. Until we get that right, we are simply re-arranging the chess board.
We must establish a Minister for Veterans with cross-departmental authority and a standalone budget. We must establish a core of case managers to help our men and women navigate the plethora of Service providers in the Charity sector. We must ensure that when our servicemen and women approach the care providers, they and their families know that they will receive evidence based, professional care, quality assured from the Government, much like the Care Quality Commission in healthcare.
Ultimately our Veteran’s must know that their Government cares about how we look after our Men and Women when they come home. It must be that the Nation – not just the great British Public, but the apparatus of Government – ‘gets’ that looking after our men and women is a function of Operations, indeed as any other part.
Now is the time to get this right. In 5 years time operations in Afghanistan and Iraq will be a distant memory for most. Lets deliver real change in ‘that great stain upon our Nation’ I referred to when I was first elected.