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Bishop of Portsmouth presses govt to provide adequate mental health care to veterans

Bishop Christopher has urged ministers to provide better mental health care for military personnel

He told the House of Lords that mental health provision for the military was often “less than adequate” – especially for reservists, who are more scattered and less visible. He also raised concerns about accommodation for military families.

The bishop was introducing a Parliamentary debate about the impact of the Armed Forces Covenant, in ensuring that those who do serve or have served in the Armed Forces and their families are treated with fairness and respect.

He praised the fact that those on the lowest incomes in the Forces had seen wage increases, despite the public sector pay freeze. He also praised the fact that advances in healthcare at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan had been mirrored by specialist centres in the UK.

And he highlighted the way that Service Pupil Premium Payments had enabled schools to fund projects to support the children of military families. One example was the Crofton Cabin in Crofton Hammond Infant School, which was built with a £20,000 grant from the Covenant. It provides a space for children to Skype their parents while they are overseas, and specialist counselling to help with the stress of deployments.

He also praised the “ripple effect” of the Covenant. The fact that the Karimia Mosque in Nottingham had signed up last month had prompted a wave of Muslim-owned businesses to commit themselves to supporting the military.  

But on healthcare, the bishop said: “There have been undoubted improvements in surgical care and rehabilitation for physical injuries, but mental health care provision lags behind. It depends on an NHS which has been chronically underfunded in this area.

“Despite the Prime Minister’s welcome announcement today (Jan 9), mental health provision is strained at best, and provision for military personnel is often less than adequate. Can the minister give us reassurance on the way this essential provision can be delivered?

“This applies with as much or greater force to reservists, who are increasingly important to the Armed Forces and yet are scattered and less visible. Can the minister reassure the House as to the awareness of the government as regards the special challenges of this remarkable group?

“Mental health problems are known to put a strain on relationships: and it sadly remains the case that the divorce rate among military families is double that of the civilian world.

“But it’s likely that this is not the only reason for this when the main reason cited by those leaving the forces is the impact of their job on family life. A crucial part of that is where you live. Like the Armed Forces, the Church has a great deal of experience with housing its people, and is aware of the impact of poor housing on morale.

“The Public Accounts Committee concluded that families have been let down by the inadequate performance of CarillonAmey. Accommodation remains, by far, the number one issue reported to the Families Federations and service personnel will welcome reassurance from the minister, if he is able to help today, about the government’s appreciation of the concern about this and how it will be addressed.

“Family life is, of course, wider than the house you live in, and it is unfair that those seeking to adopt children and those seeking to get their children into new schools are still facing huge hurdles because of the special circumstances of service life. I hope that the schools admission problem will be adequately addressed by The Children of Armed Services Bill to be debated for the second time later this month in the House of Commons. Perhaps the minister could indicate if the government has sympathy and perhaps plans to reduce and remove these problems?

“The principle of the Covenant is that those who serve in the Armed Forces and their families should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services. For this to be the case, there has to be a clear understanding of what is fair and what is achievable. I remind the House that the Covenant has admirably begun to redress injustice, unfairness and disadvantage. We all need to ensure that none of us fail to pay due respect to the men and women, with their families, who are prepared to lay down their lives in our protection.”

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