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Veterans’ Strategy Action Plan: Civilian Life

Volume 729: debated on Thursday 16 March 2023

3. What assessment his Department has made of the impact of the veterans’ strategy action plan on supporting veterans in their civilian lives. (904103)

14. What assessment his Department has made of the impact of the veterans’ strategy action plan on supporting veterans in their civilian lives. (904119)

We have already completed delivery of over 35% of our strategy action plan commitments. Veterans are being supported into employment in the public sector. We are accelerating our investment to end veteran homelessness. The veterans’ survey has been a game changer, and Op Courage is delivering more mental health support than ever before and is on track, despite what the Opposition might say.

We have many fantastic veterans across Keighley and Ilkley, including George Metcalf and Pete Western, whom I have met on numerous occasions to talk about supporting veterans in their civilian lives. Could my right hon. Friend outline the schemes available to help increase veteran employment and to assist their transition into the civilian workplace?

I am clear that having a job—a meaningful job—is the No. 1 factor that will improve the life chances of any veteran and their family. We are putting a great deal of resource and time and effort into that space. On pathways into the public sector, the STEP into Justice programme gets people into the justice system. The Office for Veterans’ Affairs has a veterans employment group. There are some fantastic employment opportunities. We are trying to bring it all together so that it is clearer for people. I commend the work of James Cameron and Mission Automotive in that space. I would like to see those pathways across different sectors, and we are looking to roll that out this year.

I recognise the excellent work that is being done by the Minister and his team. Could he give more detail about Operation Fortitude in respect of homeless veterans? And while he is on his feet, could he give a word of praise to Alex Baxter and his team in Cleethorpes, who do so much for veterans? May I invite him to visit them some time in the near future?

I of course pay tribute to Alex in Cleethorpes, and to everybody who works in this sector. I say to the House again that the nation has a duty to these people. It is not about me, the Government or charities delivering—it is the nation’s commitment and we all need to work together. I pay tribute to the charities that do that work.

Op Fortitude is a referral pathway that will enable anyone who has served and is at risk of homelessness to get into good-quality supported housing, to access wraparound care and treatment for addiction or any comorbidity factors, and ultimately to upskill and get back into civilian life. It is a game-changing programme and I am proud to deliver it.

The Minister and I have worked closely together supporting foreign and Commonwealth soldiers and veterans, so I wonder if he shares my concern about the case of Vilikesa Tubuitamana. He proudly served for 18 years, including two tours of Afghanistan and two tours of Iraq, but sadly his service resulted in severe PTSD. He was honourably discharged on medical grounds and awarded £46,000 to help fund his medical needs and a new life. Shockingly, however, it appears that the Ministry of Defence has used the money awarded for his PTSD to settle an administrative mix-up, leaving him—a father of three—penniless. Will the Minister have a look and see what can be done to support him?

Of course. Clearly, I am not a Minister in the Ministry of Defence, but I raised this formally with the Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families earlier this week. I am aware of that case. I totally accept that there are individual cases where the results are not in keeping with making this country the best in the world to be a veteran. That is why I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that case. There is a deficit when it comes to looking after our foreign and Commonwealth personnel, particularly veterans, in this country. He has done great work on this over many years in highlighting their cases, and I hope the sunlight we can bring to this case can bring us to a fair resolution.

After my office intervened on behalf of Sandy, who had been wounded serving in Northern Ireland, by writing to the Secretary of State, we got an inaccurate response that has left Sandy feeling even more frustrated about his treatment and his attempts to get a fairer war pension. Given that the survey by the all-party group on veterans found that 76% of veterans rated their experience of claiming compensation through Veterans UK as poor or very poor, when will there be root-and-branch reform of Veterans UK? Will the Minister promise to take up Sandy’s case and review what has been sent to our office?

I am more than happy for the hon. Gentleman to send me his case. My line on Veterans UK has been the same for four years now. There are good people who work there and they work very hard in delivering that service. Governments of all colours have under-invested in that organisation for many years. When I first became a Minister, they were working on paper records. Jointly with the Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families, I have commissioned a review of that service to make sure that it works for people like the individual who has been mentioned. I am clear that the service is not good enough in some areas. We are working on that and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see the results of the review, which we launched last week, in the next three to six months.

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs recently commented in the Express:

“for too long veterans services have suffered from under-investment, and been over-reliant on paper records and outdated tech.”

I agree, but I fear that after 13 years in government, despite the rhetoric and his threat to shave off his eyebrows if he does not deliver, there is no serious plan to deliver the standard of services that all our veterans and their families deserve. So will he confirm what specific resources his office will be allocated for the implementation of the recommendations of the cross-departmental veterans’ welfare services review?

I am a huge personal fan of the hon. Lady, but a lot of what she says in this space is simply not the case. I have written to her to correct the record. I think she may have inadvertently misled the House when talking about Op Courage waiting times. There are problems in this sector and I have spent a long time trying to correct them, but the reality is that the things she mentions, such as waiting times for Op Courage, are just factually not correct. There are areas where we need to work. We have launched the quinquennial review of compensation schemes. I have been going down this path for quite a long time. Never before have a UK Government committed to veterans’ services like the Government have today. That is the reality of the situation. Being a veteran now in this country is fundamentally different from how it was when I started, but I look forward to continuing to work with her in the months ahead.