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Veterans: Mental Health Support

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 2 February 2023

The Government are committed to providing high-quality evidence-based mental health support for veterans. There will be an additional £2.7 million of funding for Op Courage over the next few years, on top of the £17.8 million annual investment to provide a specialist mental health support and treatment pathway for veterans and their families.

A recent University of Manchester study showed that veterans under 25 were more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population. I welcome what the Minister says, but it would be good if he worked with the Department of Health and Social Care, which is looking at a suicide strategy, to ensure that we are doing all we can to help veterans under 25 with their mental health. Does he agree?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for all his work on mental health over many years. The Manchester study revealed that, overall, people who have served are less likely to take their own lives, but there is a cohort within that for whom the risk is clearly higher. Defence Transition Services is doing everything it can to prepare that cohort for civilian life. We are clear that every suicide is a tragedy for the individual, their family and the military as an institution, and we are working all hours and doing everything we can to prevent every single one.

Two things have impacted on the mental health of veterans in the Rhondda. One is the complete collapse of the private rented sector, with many single men getting no protection under the law and finding it very difficult to find a guarantor so that they can get anywhere to live at all. The second thing is brain injuries. I hope that the Minister has seen the recent research showing that the percentage of people sleeping rough who are veterans—and, of those, the percentage who have brain injuries—is phenomenally high. What can we do to ensure that those elements are sorted so that people who have done everything they can for our nation get the support that they need?

I will first tackle the homelessness point. Veteran homelessness has been an issue in this country for far too long. In December, I launched Op Fortitude, which is a dedicated drive to end veteran homelessness in this country. With £8.5 million and 910 supported housing placements, it will be rolled out across the nation. We are determined to end the problem this year.

I recognise the link with traumatic brain injury. A lot of work is going into understanding how that affects this generation of veterans, who have come out of Afghanistan and Iraq, in particular. That work is ongoing, and I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to update him on it.

In Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, we are proud to be home to a number of charities that help veterans with their mental health, including the Tri Services and Veterans Support Centre and its Operation R&R, which is based at its retreat in Newchapel and Mow Cop; and the Veteran Support Network, led by Lee West, which is based in Middleport. Will the Veterans Minister be kind enough to come and visit those fantastic charities and see the work that they are doing, and will he look at what pots are available—whether revenue or capital—to allow them to expand their work across north Staffordshire?

Of course, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his persistent work and campaigning on this issue over many years. This country has some phenomenal charities that work night and day to look after our veterans. Op Courage, which was established in 2019, has formalised that pathway for the first time, and any charity and service can bid in to run different parts of it. That is why it has been an incredibly successful programme. I am more than happy to visit his constituency at a time when we can make it work.

One way in which we can support veterans’ mental health is to ensure that they transition into meaningful employment that allows them to use the highly transferable skills that they bring from the service. Has the Minister had time to look at what is happening in the US, where they are counting the number of veterans in big companies, and does he think that we could or should do that here?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there has been brilliant work in that space. Last week, I visited Barclays, which is the first company in this country to count how many veterans it employs. It is important that companies go beyond rubber-stamping paperwork about what it is like to be a veteran in those companies. They need to mark how many veterans work for them and the ease and equity of access to employment. Some great work is being done in the States, and I am always looking to improve the offer over here.