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Volume 475: debated on Friday 16 May 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he is taking to improve the assistance given to soldiers to prepare for life upon return from tours of duty in theatres of operation. (205289)

[holding answer 15 May 2008]: Prior to deploying on operations soldiers receive welfare and personal briefings that are intended to assist them in coping with the demands of operational tours and the subsequent return from theatre. These briefings are supplemented by a booklet and a DVD.

At the end of an operational tour personnel leaving theatre will go through a 24-36 hours period of ‘decompression’, prior to return to their home base. This enables them to unwind physically and mentally and to talk to colleagues and superiors about their experiences. Personnel also attend mandatory briefings during this period, designed to help them manage the transition to normal life. On return to the home base, and prior to the mandatory post operational leave, soldiers go through a normalisation process. This lasts for up to five days and is a structured programme of briefings and activities to help the re-adjustment to non-operational service life in barracks. Access to specialised mental healthcare is available at every stage of the process, as is access to the Army’s comprehensive range of welfare services.

For those leaving the operational theatre with illness or injuries it is often not practical for them to undergo decompression or normalisation. Those hospitalised at Selly Oak are visited at least daily by the Service Brigade Liaison Officers and the Defence Medical Welfare Staff. Arrangements are also made for their families to visit them as soon as possible to offer additional bedside comfort and support after their arrival in a UK hospital. They can also be counselled by Army welfare staff and, where appropriate, referred for more specialist treatment. For those who are evacuated from theatre to home sick leave the Army Sickness Absence Management process involves regular unit representative contact until individuals return to their units or are discharged from the Army. Where support requirements are identified before discharge an action plan is developed with the Veterans Welfare Service that ensures support continues for at least two years beyond discharge where necessary.

The Army has also recently implemented Trauma Risk Management (TRiM). This aims to identify at the earliest possible stage those who may have been affected by traumatic incidents so that appropriate counselling, or other forms of treatment, can be arranged for them.