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Former Military Personnel: Depression and Suicide

Volume 627: debated on Monday 10 July 2017

3. What steps he is taking to reduce rates of depression and suicide among former British military personnel. (900295)

We ask much of our brave service personnel and recognise that service life can cause stress, so we are absolutely committed to providing the necessary mental health and welfare support both during the time of service and on retirement.

I thank the Minister for his reply, but can he tell us more about the Veterans’ Gateway and how it will work alongside the young royals’ charity, the Heads Together campaign, to support veterans with mental health problems?

There are 2.5 million veterans in this country and the majority make the transition to civilian life without a problem, but some do not, and that is no fault of their own. There are over 500 main charities providing support, including the one my hon. Friend mentions. The Veterans’ Gateway is that initial portal to avoid the confusion of where to turn to. So I welcome this initiative, and would love to take credit for it myself, but I cannot as it was down to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster), who is now the armed forces Minister.

We all owe a great debt of gratitude to those armed forces charities that work so hard supporting former military personnel facing depression and other conditions, but why will the Government not commit to the Royal British Legion’s “Count Them In” campaign so that the charities, the statutory services and everyone else can know where former military personnel live?

This is down to a data issue. We are putting together a veterans register, but there is a Data Protection Act issue. We work with Cobseo—the confederation of service charities—and we will be establishing a veterans’ board as well, to make sure that we are meeting the needs of our veterans.

LIBOR funding has been a real lifeline for many charities across the UK, including in Plymouth, where we recently secured £80,000 for a veterans care navigation service. Beyond 2018 that LIBOR funding dries up, however; what thought has the Minister given to getting veterans care on to a sustainable model, so that we can do our duty by those who serve?

I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done in this area. He is right to say that the LIBOR funding has been so useful in providing sources of revenue for a number of key projects, and we need to ensure that that continues. I would like to highlight one of those projects, Combat Stress, whose 24/7 phone line has been paid for by LIBOR funds, providing an important service.

Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) about voluntary groups, I would like to mention two wonderful groups in my constituency—the Veterans Association UK and Veterans in Communities—that do wonderful work with ex-service personnel. What guarantee can the Government give that they will support such organisations in the future?

These organisations play an important part in looking after not only the transition but the veterans themselves, who have given so much during their service life. This is part of our covenant commitment, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, and I am grateful that he has mentioned those charities. The veterans board will also help with that. All our commitments to do with the covenant are important, but the Veterans’ Gateway programme will ensure that such small charities get the publicity they deserve.

The role of all three services of the British armed forces in the liberation of Mosul in Iraq in recent days must be commended. Will the Secretary of State tell me what plans we have for further involvement in Iraq and whether he agrees that the British Army has a crucial role in mentoring and training the Iraqi forces, who are a hugely important ally?

I am a Minister in the Ministry of Defence rather than the Secretary of State, but I am glad that my hon. Friend has such confidence in me. I welcome him to his place. It was a pleasure to join him on the 35th anniversary of the Falklands conflict. He is right to ask what should happen next. As we have seen so many times in various conflicts, there has not been that important transition from war-fighting to peacekeeping, but I know that the Secretary of State is involved in this matter.