Tobias Ellwood, chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, introduces the witnesses on 12 January 2021. Click here to view the session.
On Tuesday 12 January 2021, the House of Commons Defence Select Committee heard from expert witness on Armed Forces and veterans’ mental health issues.
What particularly struck me was the following:
- In answer to the question ‘Do you think the MOD should be responsible for…looking after [our Armed Forces] when they get back [from harm’s way]?’, Mandy Bostwick, Specialist Trauma Psychotherapist, agreed that it should.
- She explained her rationale thus: when the NHS (National Health Service) is ‘buckling’, relevant medical services should be provided by the MOD for the Armed Forces (including veterans) who have ‘specialist injuries’ and ‘have been in unique conditions’. Mandy argued that for these reasons, they ‘need to be kept within the fold and looked after’, as they are ‘the responsibility of the people that have sent them there in the first place’ including politicians (the benefits of keeping former or serving injured military personnel within the fold are supported in research).
- Furthermore, relying on charities and the NHS ‘is abdicating every level of responsibility’.
- Mandy therefore argued that the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre (DNRC), in looking after those with physical injuries, could also support those with trauma and traumatic brain injuries. She linked the absence of such treatment to veteran suicides, involvement in the criminal justice system, homelessness and family breakup, which, in turn, puts pressure on the police and social services; not to mention the ‘human cost to the individual who we sent to war in the first place’.
- Finally, she added that the ‘fact that we largely leave charities to support people…is not acceptable’.
- On the issue of the DNRC looking after a wider range of trauma-related injuries, it was pointed out that a visit was conducted by politicians, resulting in an offer of money to create ‘a centre of excellence for the mental health of veterans, where they could go to be treated’. It was suggested that the impact of COVID meant that this has not yet taken place, but, as the Secretary of State (for Health) ‘gave his word…we [the politicians] should hold him to it’.
- In qualifying this need, Sue Freeth, Chief Executive of Combat Stress, indicated that having just one location for Armed Forces and veterans’ mental health treatment might be problematic, as, in some cases, care needs to be ongoing and involve the family. ‘The best place to support a veteran with complex psychological treatment needs is alongside their family’. she added.
- Mark Francois, a member of the Defence Select Committee, added that there are already several regional treatment centres for physical injuries operating under DNRC, known as ‘Murrison‘ centres, which is a model that could be adopted for distributed psychological treatment. This, it was suggested, could enable people to be treated, over the longer term, close ‘to their home, with their family’.
The thrust of the hearing on 12 January seemed to be that if Armed Forces personnel and veterans develop psychological injuries having been put in ‘harm’s way’ by the politicians that send them, then it is for the Armed Forces health providers (under DNRC) to offer and coordinate help, not to leave it to an overstretched NHS and underfunded and complex weave of state and charity provision.
It was argued this is particularly the case when charity incomes are dwindling (hence services threatened) and the NHS is leading the fight against the effects of COVID, and strengthened by research that indicates Armed Forces personnel and veterans seek to be treated within a system that understands them, their injuries, and the circumstances that cause them.