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Veterans: Covid-19 Support

Volume 678: debated on Monday 6 July 2020

The full range of veterans’ support services, including the Veterans UK helpline and welfare service, have continued to be provided throughout covid-19 pandemic.

I declare an interest as a Royal Air Force veteran and as honorary president of the Royal Air Forces Association in Huddersfield. Will the Minister please update the House on the phase 2 roll-out of the ID card for military veterans? Having spoken to fellow veterans, they tell me that having this ID card will give them real confidence in trying to access support services, including NHS services.

I pay tribute to my hon. and gallant Friend for pursuing this issue. A new veterans ID card was launched in February 2019. Service leavers are currently getting that veterans railcard. There are challenges around future proofing and safeguarding against fraudulent use, which means that the process of rolling out phase 2 to existing veterans is taking longer than I had hoped, but I hope to have some progress for him by the end of the year.

We know that many veterans will have been affected during this coronavirus crisis. The older veterans, perhaps those from world war two, might have to shield, while the younger ones may have a range of mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and this current crisis will no doubt put additional pressure on them. What support is being given to those younger veterans, or indeed to older veterans with mental health problems, to make sure that they do not come out of this situation worse than they went in?

I am acutely aware that the covid pandemic has placed extra and unique challenges on our veteran community, particularly those who have had to isolate and who find isolation difficult at the best of times. We have put more money in—£6 million from the Treasury has gone to 100 different armed forces charities, both large and small across the country. We are working hard with our NHS colleagues to ensure that we are providing services through the transition and liaison service and the complex treatment service. The numbers there are looking good, and I am confident that we have had a good professional service throughout this time.

I know the Minister will agree that the armed forces have gone above and beyond throughout the course of the pandemic, particularly those charities that have been providing specific support to veterans. However, concerningly, one in every 10 charities believes that it will have to close in the next 10 months. Will the Minister explain what work he has been doing with the Ministry of Defence and with the Treasury to ensure that, if these charities do have to close, the support will still be there for veterans?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to focus on the output from these charities and what that care looks like from the veterans’ point of view. My determining concern is that, where these services are, regrettably, unable to continue, that service is still provided and that veterans can access them across the country. I have worked hard with officials in the Treasury to get money into the sector. There is no doubt that the veterans’ charity and care sectors are going through an accelerated process of reform as a result of covid-19, but I am determined to take the opportunities from that, making sure that we fulfil the Government’s ambition to make this the best country in the world in which to be an armed forces veteran.

The Minister said that the veterans’ gateway app would put veterans’ care in the palm of every veteran in the country. Can he tell us how many people have downloaded and used this app in its first two months?

I have not formally launched the veterans’ gateway app at the moment. We are going through a process of working with users and so on to make it more user-friendly. That is an ambition of mine: to put veterans’ care in the palm of every single veteran in this country. We will have a formal launch and I would be delighted if the hon. Gentleman came with me to that launch. We can then look at the figures together and perhaps work on getting the app into more people’s pockets as we go.[Official Report, 13 July 2020, Vol. 678, c. 7MC.]

The Minister said that the veterans’ gateway app will put veterans’ care in the palm of every veteran in the country. Will he tell us what estimate his Department has made of the number of veterans who do not have a smartphone and what his Department is doing to reach them?

It is a completely fair point that many of our veterans are of an age group who will not be digitally able to access this app. The app was never designed to be something that is all encompassing. It is simply another measure in the suite of options that we are offering to veterans in this country to make sure that this is the best country in the world in which to be an armed forces veteran. There is a whole host of other ways of looking after our veterans, such as breakfast clubs that we all get involved in. When this app does come out, I will be looking at ways to make it even more user-friendly, particularly to our older veterans, to whom we owe such a great debt.[Official Report, 13 July 2020, Vol. 678, c. 8MC.]