A LANDMARK report out yesterday details how 83,000 UK troops have been
afflicted by physical or mental injury – exposing the true human toll of conflicts since the First Gulf War.
It is of critical importance and the first time an attempt has been made to measure empirically the “State of the Nation” when it comes to UK Armed Forces veterans.
The findings — while not unexpected — remain stark.
We are a proud nation that enjoys a way of life many have fought to defend.
American President Theodore Roosevelt once said: “A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards”.
These words are on the wall of the deeply impressive Tedworth House recovery centre in Wiltshire.
Tedworth House encapsulates the duty the nation has towards those who have served, and the lengths to which we should go to ensure the much heralded Armed Forces Covenant is respected.
But Tedworth House is a charity; Help for Heroes is one of a number of heroic charities that have stepped up and provided care for our veterans.
Without them we would be in a very dark place.
They were formed out of a need to look after our battle-scarred young men and women – who we were asking to protect our way of life for a paltry commitment by the nation’s Government.
The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) is a harrowing distraction for our troops. Many of them are struggling to cope with wounds — both physical and mental — but now have the extra fear of an investigation into their conduct some 12 years after the event.
This investigation, which has no public support whatsoever, just worsens the emotional trauma for so many of our servicemen and women even if their consciences are clear.
It underlines why now, more than ever, we need extra co-ordinated help from central government.
While the scandal-hunters look towards the IHAT, service families fear a knock at the door, and the Forces community repeatedly states it has no problem with genuine accountability, there remains a genuine scandal that we, as a country, have only part-way resolved.
This Government has done more than any before it to improve the care of veterans and their families.
This Prime Minister has been more committed than any before him in this cause.
But as conventional combat operations have faded from the public eye, so have the donations to our Armed Forces charities. And the demand will only increase.
This sector has had money thrown at it by Government and charities. But too many still fall through the net.
Too much “care” is unregulated; too much duplication occurs, too many do not know where to turn; too much money is wasted.
And that is not good enough for those we have a duty to look after.
So I and many others want to see a single point of contact so every veteran or Armed Forces personnel and their families knows where to go.
We want to know that care needs are uniformly assessed and co-ordinated; that the money we give to the brilliant Armed Forces charities is not wasted duplicating treatment, or on practices that are not of the highest quality.
The only way to achieve these goals is by creating an independent government Department for Veterans’ Affairs.
Crucially, we want to know they are receiving care of the same professional standards they exhibited when they did their duty to keep us safe.
No matter how good the Veterans minister is (and this one, Milton Keynes MP Mark Lancaster is very good), without cross-departmental authority, a dedicated budget or a department to manage cases, we as a nation cannot truly deliver the care our men and women deserve.
Let’s make looking after our men and women who serve, a part of what makes Britain Great.