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Volume 486: debated on Monday 12 January 2009

The nation’s commitment to service personnel, dependants and veterans was set out in the service personnel Command Paper published last July, which received widespread publicity. Benefits and assisted support are publicised through Government and ex-service organisation websites and publications, and through local and national press articles. We are also determined to use the armed forces day on 27 June this year to publicise the range of benefits and support available to our veterans.

May I add my message of sympathy to those families who have lost a member of their family serving in the armed forces since the last time the House met. May I also pay tribute to Mr. Victor Herd and Mr. Bruce Kelly of the Combined Ex-Services Association in Dundee, whose time, effort and commitment ensure that Veterans day in Dundee has been a success every year since it was inaugurated. I am sure all hon. Members would agree that respect and recognition are due to those who have served this country, whether that comes via health care priority, the veterans’ badge or, indeed, Veterans day. Could the Minister outline in more detail the Government’s plans for the newly titled armed forces day 2009?

I add my congratulations to those two individuals. They are part of an army of volunteers throughout the country who serve charities and do unpaid voluntary work, and we should thank them wholeheartedly. I will make an announcement later this month on the successful city that has been chosen for Veterans day. Alongside that, I will publish suggestions about how towns, cities and communities can get involved, and I would like individual Members of Parliament to do what they can to promote armed forces and Veterans day.

Will the Minister join me in praising the work of the Fife Veterans Association, which does the sort of work that he described—voluntary work, promoting and standing up for veterans throughout the kingdom? The association does a splendid job promoting the rights of those veterans, and it deserves the support of the House and beyond.

I am pleased to join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Fife veterans. I visited Scotland before Christmas and met Veterans Scotland. I pay tribute to them and the range of organisations involved in Veterans Scotland that are doing a fantastic job in Scotland to promote veterans’ affairs and offer practical assistance to veterans.

My hon. Friend recognises that we have made tremendous strides recently with regard to veterans. One measure that particularly pleased me and, I am sure, my hon. Friend and everyone else is the free university education for veterans and free training and qualifications for veterans. Have we yet linked up universities and colleges through the MOD and Army sites to allow veterans to be aware of where they can go, what qualifications they can get and the fact that they can take that up free?

Like my hon. Friend, I am pleased that that was a key part of the service command paper. Later this year we will announce the first individuals who will be taking advantage of that. Armed forces day will be part of the promotion of the steps that we have taken and where we are up to in implementing the recommendations in the service command paper. As my hon. Friend knows, in July this year the evaluation paper will be placed before Parliament showing exactly what we have done and how far we have got in implementing those measures, which our servicemen and women rightly deserve.

The right to priority treatment for occupational illness caused by service in the armed forces is implicit in the military covenant, yet the UK is shamed by its allies’ superior effort in raising awareness among servicemen, veterans, health care professionals and the general public of the potentially crippling nature of combat stress and what can be done about it. What plans does the Minister have for active combat stress case finding, or are his Government content simply to allow the increasing number of veterans with severe service-attributable mental ill health to go undiscovered and untreated?

I am shocked and surprised that someone who is a clinician does not understand what we have done. An excellent report recently produced by the King’s Centre for Military Health Research outlines 10 years of research ranging from the issues associated with Gulf war syndrome to a very good study, which I suggest the hon. Gentleman should read, on Operation Telic, which looked at 7,000 people—3,000 who did not attend operations and 3,000 who did. It brings out some very good figures, and shows, for example, that some of the alarmist statements about post-traumatic stress disorder are not being found. That is not being complacent; it is making sure that we have the evidence in place to ensure that the services that those individuals deserve are available. I do not accept that the Government or the United Kingdom are doing any less than any other country. They are, perhaps, doing more.