One in five claims by veterans seeking compensation for PTSD are denied. That’s over 1,300 refusals since 2010. Charity Help for Heroes has been leading the charge for increased political support for the cause, and new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already stepped up to the plate.
He has nominated new Defence minister Johnny Mercer to lead a dedicated Office for Veterans’ Affairs. Mercer, a commendable choice for the job given his military background, said he was “delighted” with his new role, emphasising once again the importance of government resources coming to veterans’ aid.
The new Office is a very welcome move for various reasons, not least the shamefully high rates of homelessness among veterans. It is vital that we do everything we can to protect these people, just as they have protected us. The new Office will offer government assistance in areas such as mental and physical health, education and employment.
Since we rarely witness first-hand the vital and heroic deeds that soldiers undertake on a daily basis, tragically, they often escape our notice. This momentous move by the new Prime Minister, however, has not gone unnoticed, with many expressing relief at the realisation of something they have long campaigned for, and renewed hope for the future. The CEO of Combat Stress praised it as “an excellent opportunity to provide a single voice at the Cabinet table for veterans”.
This fresh approach to veterans’ rights will go down in history as the first ever government office dedicated to the issue. Alongside its launch came Boris Johnson’s pledge to end the unfair retrospective prosecution of army veterans, which Mercer has said he finds “personally offensive”.
Johnson has also promised to enshrine the so-called ‘military covenant’ in law, in order to give soldiers extra legal protection by allowing them to sue the government if they are treated unfairly. Former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon welcomed the move, saying that it would “halt the witch hunt against Northern Ireland veterans”.
These veterans urgently need our support to return to everyday life as citizens, something that we all take for granted. Many remain haunted long after their return home by long-lasting issues of mental and physical health. We, as a society, must not shy away from helping those who have risked their lives for our benefit.
Charities such as Help for Heroes are already doing more than their fair share to provide veterans with necessary rehabilitation, but a dedicated government office is badly needed. Veterans need representation at the highest level. Now that the Office for Veterans’ Affairs has been formally introduced, we can expect the government to provide the financial and logistical assistance the third sector requires.
Veterans are not an isolated or homogenous community. Most share the same simple desire: to be a part of society once again. This move from the new government promises them political representation, which – we hope – will turn into life-changing new policy manoeuvres, with their interests at heart.