Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader and defence spokesperson, Elfyn Llwyd MP, is right to warn that the UK government must undertake radical steps to help the rising numbers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) sufferers. The UK Government has taken its time in responding to the needs of our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan - a number of whom are suffering from PTSD.
The Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, promised today to provide a 24-hour helpline and an additional 30 mental health nurses for veterans and serving soldiers. This is a step in the right direction but far bolder action needs to be undertaken to support our veterans and our serving service personnel and their families, who were promised help by New Labour, who failed to deliver.
Plaid's Elfyn Llwyd has long been at the forefront of a campaign for greater support for veterans of the Armed Forces and recently travelled to the United States as part of a delegation sponsored by the Howard League for Penal Reform to research the issue of why so many ex-servicemen and women end up in prison.
Plaid's Elfyn Llwyd MP said:
“This is an issue I have long campaigned for and I am extremely glad that the UK government has finally realised what a critical problem we face with veterans welfare. It is a crying shame that more is not done to support our young men and women when they leave the forces – particularly when we ask so much of them in going to war. PTSD is a problem that can take years, sometimes decades, to surface. We need to ensure that support is on offer whenever a veteran needs that support – not just immediately prior to leaving the forces. No doubt we have yet to witness the true scale of the mental health fall-out that will come in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan. While I'm glad that steps are being taken, there is a certain 'de ja vu' in this announcement as it seems to be a re-hash of promises made by the last government.
Will this government really commit itself to tackling this ever increasing problem? We need to improve mental health screening of personnel when they sign up as well as developing a holistic and thorough support structure available for every veteran when they leave the forces. I have argued that there should be a thorough and separate review into resources spent on veterans – similar to the Defence review, that way would we would be closer to recognising where exactly, and how much, resources would be needed to begin targeting the problem. A structure needs to be in place to provide support and advice on accommodation, career advice and debt management as well as health and mental health issues, to target the social isolation experienced by many veterans.Only through developing a thorough support network will we be able to tackle the scandalous number of veterans who end up in the criminal justice system and in the homeless population.”
Sadly it should come as no real surprise to even the most impartial observer (or not) that UK Government's have a tendency to treat former (and serving) service personnel badly. On occasion you may well be driven to wonder if anything has changed; once again our heroes and heroines are doing battle in a distant land and their families are living quietly in sub-standard accommodation at home. They (my grandfather amongst them) were promised many years ago 'Homes fit for heroes' – but the last but one Conservative / Liberal Coalition found that honouring promises to heroes cost too much (what price the sacrifice made at the front?) once the war was over thus fell the Geddes Axe...
The only honourable exception to this roll of shame was the 1945 Labour Government, the rest have readily and speedily betrayed their promises our service personnel - admittedly usually after a wars conclusion rather than while it is still going on. It is deeply ironic that with the ninetieth anniversary of a UK Government betraying its promise to our soldiers to ensure that they had homes fit for heroes after the 1914 – 1918 war; that we find ourselves in a situation where soldiers families are living in sub-standard accommodation and our veterans and the sharp end of shoddy treatment for services rendered .
Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, promised today to provide a 24-hour helpline and an additional 30 mental health nurses for veterans and serving soldiers - lets hope this Government keeps its promises to our veterans and our serving service personnel.