MPs demand equal care for NI veterans in battle against suicide

Mental health care for veterans in NI falls far behind that in GB, MPs on the Defence Select Committee have found.
Mental health care for veterans in NI falls far behind that in GB, MPs on the Defence Select Committee have found.
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MPs have demanded that government detail how it will help veterans in NI access the same veteran-specific mental health treatment already available in the rest of the UK.

A report by the Westminster Defence Select Committee found that some serving and retired forces personnel who need mental health care are being “completely failed by the system” and said it was a “scandal” that less than 0.007% of the £150 billion UK NHS budget is allocated to veteran mental health.

The Committee is calling on the Government to set out how it will help veterans living in Northern Ireland to access veteran-specific mental health treatment available to those living in the rest of the UK

MPs on the Defence Select Committee

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said the situation as it stands is “completely untenable”.

However the report, ‘Mental Health and the Armed Forces, Part Two: The Provision of Care’ went even further and repeatedly stated that the situation in NI is even worse.

It found that some veterans can wait up to a year for treatment after assessment “particularly in NI” which has “the worst affected veterans” with no statutory provision for many of them.

Unlike GB, it found, there are no statutory services open to all veterans.

It added: “The Committee is calling on the Government to set out how it will help veterans living in Northern Ireland to access veteran-specific mental health treatment available to those living in the rest of the UK.”

MPs also concluded that NI is “particularly lacking in charity provision” for veterans.

The MOD told the MPs that there is no priority support for veterans in NI, due to local equality legislation, contrary to the Armed Forces Covenant.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said: “Throughout my time as a member of the Defence Select Committee I have continually sought to ensure that Northern Ireland’s voice is heard and to ensure that issues specific to NI are raised. Our report helpfully confirms the lack of provisions we’ve highlighted. It’s now up to Government to make the changes necessary for our Veterans.”

East Belfast Ulster Unionist MLA, Andy Allen, who was seriously injured as a soldier in Afghanistan and now runs a veteran support charity, said Government “cannot continue to shirk its responsibility to the Service Community in Northern Ireland”.

It is “unforgivable” that veterans in NI are waiting months before they can be seen, he said, calling on government to facilitate NI veterans in accessing GB services until NI is brought up to par.

The government responded that it welcomed the committee’s report and will respond in due course.

Robert McCartney, chairman of Ards veterans charity, Beyond the Battlefield, says 400 veterans in NI attempt to take their lives annually - and that up to 30 do. While the MPs called for a “world-class centre for the treatment of mental injuries” for GB veterans within 18 months, he says that his charity already has a premises for a centre for NI. “However we do not have the funding as yet and are hoping to secure it from central government in the near future,” he said.

Terror victims group the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) says there is “palpable anger and frustration” among NI forces veterans due to the lack of support for them.

Spokeman Kenny Donaldson said his group made a submission to a government consultation on the matter which closed on February 21.

“Forty-five per cent of SEFF’s membership are Army veterans and there is a palpable anger and frustration among many that their service as veterans has been diminished by the failure to extend the Military Covenant to NI, the lack of a dedicated veterans minister or champion for veterans’ housing, education and employment issues,” he said.

SEFF advocacy manager Ken Funston noted that some 80 veterans took their lives across the UK last year. “How many have to die before the government takes positive action?” he asked.

HELPLINES:

UDR/RI aftercare: 9042 0145

Combat Stress: 0800 138 1619

Beyond/Battlefield: 91 228 389

Lifeline NI 0808 808 8000