Page last updated at 04:53 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 05:53 UK

'So much is expected of forces' families'

By Caroline Wyatt
Defence correspondent, BBC News

Poor conditions in shower
Some 8bn is to be spent on improving MoD housing over the next 10 years

Defence Secretary Des Browne is due to set out a range of measures to ensure armed forces, their families and veterans receive better support from all government departments.

The move comes after a long campaign by forces charity the Royal British Legion, and some families have felt the need to go to them for help.

Among them is Jane, whose husband is a non-commissioned officer in the Army.

She told the BBC that her husband developed asthma as a result of the mould and damp in their MoD-provided married quarters, and that those in charge of that accommodation were slow to act despite repeated complaints.

"We were left to live in house with damp and mould, and I was really annoyed, knowing that they wouldn't live in those conditions," she said.

"The walls were black, things were dripping down the walls, the bathroom, the bedroom, the kitchen were all black with mould.

"All our kit got ruined, and in the end my husband and I had to move into the spare room, which wasn't as bad because in our room it was dreadful. So we slept in the box-room."

The family only received new accommodation when they were posted elsewhere. Jane hopes that the government paper will ensure better treatment for families living in service accommodation.

'Very hard'

Karen has a similar story. She and her husband have lived in married quarters for several years, but a flood in 2004 brought down the ceiling and ruined most of their possessions.

If you complain, then the husband is told 'get your wife back in line, or your career will suffer'
"Karen"

"The people in charge of maintenance told me it wasn't an emergency, and they'd come out in a few hours," she said.

"In the end, I had to threaten legal action to get anything done."

The house, which they still live in, continues to have plumbing problems, with leaking radiators regularly flooding the floors.

Karen says that maintenance contractors employed by the MoD have simply replastered their home and painted over the cracks, though the initial problems remain.

"The problem is that they don't really care about families if you're not an officer's wife.

"If you want to be anything other than a wife who stays at home to look after the kids, to have a career, while married to someone in the armed forces, it's very hard.

"And if you complain, then the husband is told 'get your wife back in line, or your career will suffer'."

'Much expected'

In a recent MoD survey, a third of respondents cited being away from family and friends for long periods while on operation as one reason they had thought about leaving the armed forces.

Karen says the current pressures on military families, especially spouses, are huge.

"We almost divorced because of those pressures.

"I was very depressed when our last posting meant leaving a job I loved, uprooting ourselves and leaving my friends.

"I grieved for my old life. So much is expected of forces' families."

The MoD has said it was committed to high-quality military housing, with 8bn being spent in the next 10 years.

On accommodation, the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, admitted housing was a well-known problem that the MoD was trying to deal with.

"This is the result of decades of underinvestment - decades," he said.

"And it's a massive problem. Remember we have, in terms of single living accommodation alone, over 160,000 bed spaces across 16 countries."

Better treatment

Some in the forces also feel that they are disadvantaged when it comes to receiving NHS medical care.

When being posted to a new base, forces families often lose their place on the waiting list and have to start again from scratch.

Some of those who should receive priority treatment as serving or former members of the forces say they cannot always get it.

The Command Paper is expected to guarantee improved access to specially-adapted accommodation for seriously injured troops, more streamlined access to healthcare and dental care for service people and their families - with guarantees of keeping their place on NHS waiting lists even if they move

There is also set to be free university education for servicemen and women leaving after at least six years of service, as well as better access to school places for service children.

Names have been changed to protect anonymity


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