Skip to main content

Former Service Personnel: Mental Health Services

Volume 703: debated on Monday 15 November 2021

14. What steps he is taking to improve provision of mental health services for former service personnel. (904137)

21. What steps he is taking to improve provision of mental health services for former service personnel. (904146)

We are committed to providing veterans with a gold standard of support. This year we increased the budget of Op Courage from £17.8 million to more than £20 million. We are committed to supporting third-sector armed forces charities. That is why this year we are putting a record amount of money—£25 million—into that sector.

Yesterday we honoured our armed forces and their incredible service, but we know that this service comes at a cost. Over the past five years, the number of personnel medically discharged due to mental health issues has doubled. We are not offering them enough support. On the commitment of just £20 million a year, Labour has pledged to increase that by £35 million. Will the Minister match that commitment today?

I think we are putting our money where our mouth is, but I make the broader point that it is about reducing stigma around mental health and ensuring that, during service, service people understand that dealing with their mental health is a professional responsibility. That is why we have introduced an annual mandatory mental health care brief. It is very important that service people see mental health as resilience and professional capability. We are trying to change the entire culture around it.

The Government are currently missing a range of targets for the mental health care of veterans, and sadly veterans continue to face a postcode lottery when accessing services. We know that veterans face a wait of 37 days for face-to-face appointments offered through the transition intervention and liaison service, against a target of 14 days. The average wait time for treatment is 70 days, a jump from 57 days in 2018-19. We also know that there was an increase in the wait time for appointments through the complex treatment service—now at 33 days, up from 18 in 2018-19. The Government have missed targets on mental health care for veterans across all services in England. In light of that, will the Minister commit to reviewing these services to ensure that our former serving personnel get the best standards of care?

I do not accept that characterisation from the hon. Member. Op Courage is very successful. Clearly there is always more to do, which is why we are putting more money into it. Importantly, we are putting veterans themselves at the heart of Op Courage as peer support workers.

Veterans mental health services in Wales could be greatly improved if we had a veterans’ commissioner. We are the only nation in the UK not to have one. The UK Government have agreed to create and fund the post, but the Welsh Government have not yet agreed to recognise it and work with it. Will the Minister join me in urging them to do so, so that veterans in Wales can benefit from the same support as their counterparts in the rest of the UK?

I am delighted that we will have an independent veterans’ commissioner in Wales, and I thank my hon. Friend for the campaigning she has done on this. We look forward to positive working with the Welsh Government to ensure a very positive outcome for veterans in Wales.