Charities have credited a JPIMedia campaign for prompting Government action on the number of military veterans taking their own lives.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has detailed a substantial action plan to better understand suicides among ex-service personnel in the wake of an investigation run by the Wigan Post and other JPIMedia titles across the UK.
The Government had been accused of turning a blind eye to the issue, with the campaign revealing that the UK did not monitor the number of veterans taking their lives, unlike allies such as the US, Canada and Australia.
Robert McCartney, of charity Beyond the Battlefield, said the Veterans in Crisis campaign could take “huge credit” for the developments.
“Nothing was happening on this issue before the JPIMedia series shone a spotlight on them,” he said. “It was clear that the publicity put panic into everyone. Before that I had met with three or four senior MoD ministers and there was no movement. But afterward, the ideas that had been discarded due to expense were taken out and progressed.”
A study announced in October into deaths among veterans who served between 2001 and 2014 is now to be expanded to include more recent service leavers, the MoD says. It will be updated on an ongoing basis to provide near-real time monitoring of suicides.
A further study into ex-service personnel who take their own lives will look at risk factors in the year leading up to a suicide. And the 2021 census will collect data on service history for the first time to build a clear picture of the UK’s veteran population.
Dr Walter Busuttil from national charity Combat Stress, said: “The study will help to determine the incidence of suicide and shed light on what has been going on in this sensitive area. And the promise that suicides in the military and veteran population will be monitored going forward is a massive step forward.”
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said the data collected will be critical in supporting veterans. “Every suicide is a tragedy and the loss of a veteran is always felt throughout the entire armed forces community, as well as with the families and friends who are left behind,” she said. “It’s vital we work across Government to better understand the number of ex-service personnel who take their lives, as well as the causes.”
But Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith called for coroners to do more to record instances of veteran suicides. She said: “We know that there is a lack of comprehensive data on these cases.
That is why we support calls from veterans’ charities to ensure coroners record that important data, just as our US and Canadian allies do. The Government must act urgently to legislate for this now so that we can better support those who have given so much in the service of our country.”
Other actions unveiled by the MoD to support at-risk veterans include: plans to ask service personnel transitioning into civilian life for permission to contact them in future and guide them towards support, if required; better monitoring of veterans accessing Universal Credit; an the appointment of the first Armed Forces Mental Health and Wellbeing Champion, Warrant Office
Glenn Haughton OBE, who served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.