Government unveils action plan over military veteran suicides after campaign

Charities have credited a JPIMedia campaign for prompting Government action on the number of military veterans taking their own lives.

Our investigation called for an urgent review into the recording of suicides among ex-servicemen and women
Our investigation called for an urgent review into the recording of suicides among ex-servicemen and women

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has detailed a substantial action plan to better understand suicides among ex-service personnel in the wake of an investigation run by Sussex Newspapers and other JPIMedia titles across the UK.

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The Government had been accused of turning a blind eye to the issue, with the campaign revealing that the UK did not monitor the number of veterans taking their lives, unlike allies such as the USA, Canada and Australia.

Our military suicides investigation launched last year

Robert McCartney, of Northern Ireland-based charity Beyond the Battlefield, said the 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.”

As part of the campaign, an ex-serviceman from Felpham told this newspaper how he battled suicidal thoughts and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after leaving the Army, stricken by guilt when his friend was killed in the Falklands War – read his story here.

A counsellor from Hove, who was inspired to join the profession after helping a family cope with struggles following a traumatic time serving in Afghanistan, said many ex-servicemen and women felt ‘abandoned’ when they left the military.

The investigation found that most coroners in the UK were unable to provide figures on the number of veterans who have taken their lives since 2015 – with coroners in Sussex failing to reply to a letter from JPI Media Investigations requesting the data.

Our calls for the better recording of the hidden issue of suicides of ex-servicemen and women were backed by figures including West Sussex County Council leader Louise Goldmsith, who is herself the mother of a serviceman.

A study announced in October into deaths among veterans who served between 2001 and 2014 is now to be expanded to include more recent service leavers, according to the MoD.

It will be updated on an ongoing basis to provide near-real time monitoring of suicides.

A further study into ex-service personnel who take their own lives will look at risk factors in the year leading up to a suicide.

In addition, the 2021 census will collect data on service history for the first time to build a clear picture of the UK’s veteran population.

Dr Walter Busuttil, Director of Medical Services with national charity Combat Stress, said the campaign had ‘focused minds’.

He said: “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.”

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt told JPIMedia that the data collected will be critical in supporting veterans.

“Every suicide is a tragedy and the loss of a veteran is always felt throughout the entire armed forces community, as well as with the families and friends who are left behind,” she said.

“It’s vital we work across Government to better understand the number of ex-service personnel who take their lives, as well as the causes.”

But Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith called for coroners to do more to record instances of veteran suicides.

She said: “We know that there is a lack of comprehensive data on these cases.

“That is why we support calls from veterans’ charities to ensure that coroners record that important data, just as our US and Canadian allies do.

“The Government must act urgently to legislate for this now so that we can better support those who have given so much in the service of our country.”

Other actions unveiled by the MoD to support at-risk veterans include:

- Plans to ask service personnel transitioning into civilian life for permission to contact them in future and signpost them towards support, if required;

- Better monitoring of veterans accessing Universal Credit;

- The appointment of the first Armed Forces Mental Health and Wellbeing Champion, Warrant Office Glenn Haughton OBE, who served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Anyone affected by these issues can contact the following organisations:

Combat Stress: 0800 138 1619

Help for Heroes: 01980 844280

Royal British Legion: 0808 802 8080

The Samaritans: 116123

Veterans’ Gateway: 0808 802 1212