The Office for Veterans’ Affairs champions our veterans’ mental health and wellbeing needs at the heart of Government. This month, we launched Op Courage, bringing together three NHS England veterans’ mental health services with a single point of access, something we promised to do when we were established 18 months ago.
But waiting times for face-to-face appointments under the veterans’ transition, intervention and liaison mental health service was 37 days in 2020 against the Government’s own target of 14. North-east charities, such as Forward Assist and Anxious Minds in Newcastle, do fantastic work to support veterans in civilian life, but they have been overwhelmed with demand. Does the Minister agree that care for the mental wellbeing of our armed forces veterans must begin before they leave the armed forces, and what is he doing to ensure that they are better supported in that transition to civilian life?
I do not recognise the waiting times the hon. Member relays to me, but I am happy to write to her about what I understand them to be. Let me be really clear that with the funding that has gone into veterans’ mental health—£16 million written into the long-term plan for the NHS, rising to £20 million by 2022-23—I am absolutely determined that world-class veterans’ mental health care will be available in this country. Op Courage, which we launched last week, is the start of that, and we will continue with that progress.
Last week, we saw Meghan Markle speaking out about how her pleas for support for her mental health crisis were dismissed. While obviously the military is a very different institution, military charities continue to see an increase in demand for mental health support, although people do still struggle to speak out. What steps is the Minister taking to help reduce the stigma around mental health in the military and veteran community?
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for all the championing she does in this area. Mental health has come on in leaps and bounds, particularly in the last five to 10 years. Actually, this year we are introducing mandatory mental health and fitness training for our armed forces personnel, which they will undergo every year. We are fundamentally changing our approach to mental health, fundamentally making it easier for people to come forward. It does take courage, but I encourage all those who have mental health concerns to speak up. There is help available, and they can get better.