Veterans In Crisis: Army hero praises new PM Boris Johnson after pledge to give lifelong care to ex-military personnel

Sgt Rick Clement has welcomed the creation of the new Office
Sgt Rick Clement has welcomed the creation of the new Office

Local military veterans have backed the creation of a new Office for Veterans' Affairs, which will give lifelong support to ex-service personnel.

The move comes after the Ministry of Defence detailed a substantial action plan to better understand suicides among veterans in the wake of an investigation run by this newspaper and other JPIMedia titles across the UK.

New Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new office will "take responsibility for the full gamut of veterans' civilian lives", including mental and physical health, employment, and education.

"The brave men and women who serve in our military truly represent the pinnacle of British character," Mr Johnson said.

"We are rightly admired throughout the world for our Armed Forces, and it is a stain on our national conscience that any veteran who has served should be abandoned by the country they have fought so courageously to protect.

"It is absolutely right that the government should do all it can to support our armed forces from the day they enlist and for the rest of their lives.

"Veterans have given so much to the UK. They have so much to offer our workplaces and wider society and it would be a dereliction of duty not to harness that potential."

Mr Johnson said the Office will be responsible for making sure veterans "get the medical treatment they require", "further training and skills ... to keep them in good jobs", and are given "interventions to prevent the scourge of veteran homelessness".

Wyre MP Ben Wallace, who was named the new Defence Secretary in Mr Johnson's cabinet reshuffle, said: "People join our armed forces prepared to give their lives in defence of their country.

"In return, government and society owe them a debt long after their service is finished. As a veteran myself, I know the struggles that some people face."

Blackpool veteran Sgt Rick Clement, who was seriously injured after being maimed by a Taliban bomb in Afghanistan in 2010, had called on the government to do more to help veterans, and welcomed this move.

He said: "It's obviously a step in the right direction and I will be interested to see exactly what the Office does. It's good to see the new Prime Minister has come in and straight away made a big decision."

Leyland veteran Phil Burton, a Royal Artillery veteran who considered killing himself after leaving the armed forces, had called suicide among veterans a “national crisis”.

He toured war-torn Bosnia three times and Northern Ireland twice during a 15-year-old army career before leaving in 2004 and turning to drink.

He said earlier this year: “I don’t know how many more veterans have to pass before the government pulls its finger out.”

Oliver Dowden, who was appointed Minister representing veterans in the cabinet during a visit by Mr Johnson to a military base in Scotland on Monday, will work alongside Johnny Mercer, who was named Minister for Defence People and Veterans.

Mr Mercer, a former Royal Artillery captain, said "for the first time in its history" the government will have an office to "pull together all functions of government to ensure that when our armed forces personnel leave service, they are looked after in the manner that they deserve".

Mr Dowden added: "Our veterans have made extraordinary sacrifices for this country and it's only right that we repay their commitment with the right support and care when they leave service."

The government was previously accused of turning a blind eye to the issue of veteran suicides, with JPIMedia Investigations revealing how the UK does not monitor the number of ex-service personnel taking their own lives, unlike allies such as the USA, Canada, and Australia.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Defence said a study into deaths of veterans who served between 2001 and 2014 will be expanded to include more recent service leavers.

A further study will look at risk factors in the year leading up to veterans' suicides, while the 2021 census will collect data on service history for the first time to build a clear picture of the UK's veteran population.

Other actions will include asking veterans for permission to contact them about the support available to them, better monitoring of veterans accessing Universal Credit, and the appointment of the first Armed Forces Mental Health and Wellbeing Champion, who is Warrant Officer Glenn Haughton OBE, a Northern Ireland, Iraq, and Afghanistan veteran.

Robert McCartney from the charity Beyond The Battlefield, said JPIMedia's Veterans in Crisis campaign could take "huge credit" for the developments.

"Nothing was happening on this issue before the JPIMedia series shone a spotlight on them," he said.

"It was clear that the publicity put panic into everyone. Before that I had met with three or four senior MoD ministers and there was no movement.

"But afterward, the ideas that had been discarded due to expense were taken out and progressed."

Dr Walter Busuttil, director of medical services with the national charity Combat Street, said the campaign had "focused minds".

He added: "The study will help to determine the incidence of suicide and shed light on what has been going on in this sensitive area.

"Additionally, the promise that suicides in the military and veteran population will be monitored going forward is a massive step forward."