Page last updated at 04:10 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 05:10 UK

Mental health fears over veterans

British soldier - generic
Former service personnel may need specialist care

No accurate figures are kept on the number of ex-service personnel treated for mental health problems, a BBC Radio Newcastle investigation has found.

It was discovered that the Ministry of Defence does not monitor veterans once they leave, nor does the NHS routinely ask if people have been in the forces.

There are fears this could lead to them not getting psychological care.

Veterans' Minister Kevan Jones said he was looking at ways they could be tracked through the NHS system.

A Freedom of Information request to the MOD found that once a serviceman or woman becomes a civilian they become the responsibility of the NHS.

If mental health problems arise, they are treated like anyone else, as doctors do not necessarily ask whether they have served in the armed forces.

'Debt of gratitude'

Andrew Drake, from the Royal British Legion in the North East, described the situation as a "ticking time bomb of mental health problems".

He said: "The number of people needing help is likely to increase because there's intense fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and symptoms can take years to develop.

"Many doctors aren't aware of military culture and don't recognise the unique circumstances of serviceman and woman, and that means that sometimes they don't get the understanding or specialist care they need."

Kevan Jones said: "I've initiated and am in discussions with the Department of Health, looking at a way in which we can track veterans through the NHS system, and I'm hoping to make an announcement later this year.

"We do need to get GPs asking that question so if there are early signs of any type of mental illness, they can then be fed in to not just the NHS system, but also the network of support including the mental health pilots that we've launched last year, so that people can get the help that they require."

He added: "We have a debt of gratitude to these veterans and I'm passionate about making sure that they get the support that they need."

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