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Office for Veterans’ Affairs

Volume 701: debated on Thursday 23 September 2021

3. What recent steps the Office for Veterans’ Affairs has taken to promote the interests of veterans. (903604)

This Government have taken practical measures to support veterans, including veterans rail cards, guaranteed interviews in the civil service for veteran applicants and national insurance holidays for those employing veterans. This year we have put in a cash boost to the armed forces charitable sector and NHS Operation Courage, showing that we are determined that this country be the best in the world in which to be a veteran.

Recent events in Afghanistan are yet another reminder of veterans’ dedication and sacrifice, and I think the whole House will recognise the support that they need after serving their country. Will the Minister set out the steps he is taking to help veterans, particularly those who suffer from substance and alcohol misuse?

I agree entirely, and we must put on record our thanks to all those involved in the two decades of operational activity in Afghanistan. I thank my hon. Friend for the support she is giving to veterans in her constituency. We are putting an additional £5 million into armed forces charities, bringing that support to more than £25 million this year, and an additional £2.7 million into Operation Courage, bringing that total support to £20 million this year. But this is about more than just money; it is about ensuring that veterans themselves are at the heart of that care, and in Op Courage, as peer support workers, they certainly are.

It is about more than just money, as the Minister has just said, and that support is absolutely crucial for veterans all the time, but particularly at this moment as we come out of the pandemic. Research by the charity SSAFA has found that 77% of the veterans it works with felt that they were not fully prepared for civilian life. This is clearly an area in which we need to do more work, so can he set out precisely what the Ministry of Defence is doing in working with charities such as SSAFA to prepare veterans for civilian life?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the transition is critical, and we want to see a through-career preparation for leaving the armed forces. That is something that we are resolutely focused on in our veterans strategy, which I will be publishing later this year.

Is the Minister aware that veterans are disproportionately likely to be homeless? Will he undertake to work with the new Secretary of State for Housing to ensure that veterans have every opportunity to get service plots of land to bring forward schemes of their own, as has already been successfully demonstrated in Plymouth?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful to him for the work that he has done in this area. I think the notion of self-build will appeal to a great many veterans, and I hope that we can continue to work together to ensure that this is a central part of the veteran strategy later this year.

I think the Veterans Minister for all that he does for our veterans. It is much appreciated. What steps have been taken to ensure that mental health support is available for veterans who have been further isolated during covid-19, who have suffered in silence, and who need available intervention and not just waiting lists?

We have tried to innovate during the covid pandemic by engaging online, but the bottom line is that, given the uptick, we are having to re-energise our engagement with veterans. That is why we are putting in this cash boost so that more people at the coalface can do this kind of supportive work.

The Minister is aware that the Defence Committee has recently undertaken an enquiry into women in the armed forces. What assurances can he give me that the Government are specifically looking at the issues of female veterans?

I have been reading the Select Committee’s report with great interest. The MOD is compiling its formal response, and I give my hon. Friend my personal assurance that we take these issues seriously across a whole range of considerations, including uniform and sanitary product provision. We are determined to get this right. We have opened up every single role across the military to women, but that will not be sufficient unless there is a culture of support.

Constituents have contacted me recently, and I wrote to the Office for Veterans’ Affairs about one of them on 3 August and am still awaiting a reply. What steps is the Office for Veterans’ Affairs specifically taking to make sure that veterans facing obstacles to accessing services are fully and appropriately supported?

If the hon. Lady would like to raise that case with me personally after this session, I will pursue it with urgency.