Rick Brunwin is Chief Executive of The Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation in London, and Chair of The Ex-Service Action Group (ESAG) on homelessness. In this article he gives his views on the problems facing those leaving the armed forces and some of the ways in which their return to civilian life can be made easier.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) refer to the fact that almost 23,000 service personnel are discharged each year, most of whom settle successfully in the community and go on to a successful civilian life. However, the experience of veteran's charities is that a significant number either fail immediately to adjust to their new environment or fail further down the line, ending up homeless on the streets or hostels of our cities.
Undoubtedly a major factor for many of these veterans is the prevalence of poor mental health. In some cases, this is a result of or worsened by alcohol abuse. Investigating the roots of this issue for the veterans we see leads us often to factors that arose whilst they were serving, in some cases, also issues that affected the veteran before they joined up.
Veterans' charities such as the Royal British Legion, SSAFA Forces Help, Combat Stress, Ex-Services Fellowship Centres and the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation have joined up under the umbrella of the ESAG to implement a co-ordinated strategy to tackle this issue in London. The strategy has seen the successful development of initiatives providing a wider range of advice, housing and support than previously existed but just as importantly, has led to the reduction of the numbers of veterans ending up homeless in London.
However, the problem is nowhere near resolution. We may have developed the models of support for getting many veterans off the streets and keeping them off the streets, but these models are few and are under threat as a result of their inadequate and short term funding.
Moreover, we have yet to adequately tackle the issue of supporting Veterans with complex mental health problems. These problems are regularly referred to as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but are just as likely to be the result of other issues that have occurred in the lives of veterans. Too many of our veterans have problems resulting from their service that are not adequately treated in the communities that they settle within, and they continue to suffer.
Finally, we have so far concentrated all our efforts where we knew the problem was worse - London, where at one time almost a quarter of the homeless population had an ex-forces background.
We now know that there are many areas outside London where similar problems exist, and further research is now promised to identify those areas. Once this is achieved, we can then begin to roll out some of the initiatives that we have successfully developed in London.
The Oswald Stoll Foundation
ESAG - Resources For Homeless Ex-Service
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