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  • Demographic changes over the next 10 years will see a generational shift in the Veteran community. Today, the oldest Veterans in the UK are those who served in the Second World War and subsequent conflicts up until the early 1960s as volunteers and as part of National Service.
  • Nearly half of the current Veterans in the UK are over 75 years old.
  • 1 in 12 (8%) Kirklees adults have served in the Armed Forces at some time, more than 9 out 10 (94%) of those were men.
  • The National Service personnel needs are broadly similar to the rest of the Kirklees population of the same age.
  • Many younger ex-Service personnel have moved successfully into civilian life and are reasonably well qualified, have a reasonable income and own their own homes.
  • Some younger ex-Service personnel face challenges due to disability and mental health issues, low level of qualifications and low income.
  • These challenges are more common amongst those who have served for shorter periods, especially those who left before completing their initial four years of training (early service leavers). Those who have served a shorter time find the transition harder, with problems most likely to occur in the first two years after discharge, especially amongst those who were vulnerable before joining and experienced poor mental health in service.

Why is this issue important?

Veterans include anyone who has served for at least one day in the Armed Forces (Regular and Reserve), as well as Merchant Navy seafarers and fisherman who have served in a vessel that was operated to facilitate military operations by the Armed Forces. We are unable to extend the same level of understanding to the families of those who are or have served in the armed forces, this is because we are not able to identify them and therefore detail their needs.

There are around 2.4 million veterans living in the UK. (8) In addition, in the Armed Forces community there are a further 3.63 million dependants, bringing the total number of adults residing in an Armed Forces community to 6 million adults. Yorkshire and the Humber has historically had one of the highest recruitment rates, providing around 1 in 5 (18%) of all those who joined the forces.

The circumstances of individuals are very different and their needs are determined by factors such as their experience before, during and after their service, the conflict(s) they experienced and their transition from military to civilian life.  

To equip their personnel with the necessary skills and attitudes for military life, the services instil a culture of discipline, reliance on others and acceptance of orders.  Although personnel can have a long and fulfilling career, the majority will leave at least 25 years before the current national retirement age and will need to pursue a second career. 

The Ministry of Defence divides the ex-Service community into three broad groups:

  1. Those who, following a Service career, return successfully to civilian life.
  2. Those who have suffered ill health or injury as a result of service.
  3. Those who have been unable to make a successful transition to civilian life.

In 2013/14 the last available data showed approximately 23,000 men and women left the British Armed Forces and entered civilian life.  Of the total number of leavers, just over half (50.5%) were early service leavers; of whom around one-third were trained and two-thirds untrained or did not complete basic training. Similarly, just under half of all leavers (49.5%) had more than four years’ service (1).

There is increasing recognition, both within the military and in civilian society, of the health and social needs of ex-Service personnel, in particular mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social exclusion (2).

Community assets and action (people helping people)

What would an asset-based approach to Former members of the armed forces look like?

An asset-based approach to former members of the armed forces involves recognising and supporting both the personal assets of those who have served and community assets relating to veteran support, and enabling such assets to grow and evolve.

There are a wide range of organisations and that are truly inclusive and reflect the wide range of people that have served locally. Increasing this inclusion is important and organisations across the public, private and voluntary sector should continue to remove boundaries for veterans at strategic, operational and grassroots levels.

Getting this right will support: (9)

  • Veterans to be able to build healthy relationships and integrate into their communities.
  • Veterans to enter appropriate employment and can continue to enhance their careers throughout their working lives.
  • Veterans to leave the Armed Forces with sufficient financial education, awareness and skills to be financially self-supporting and resilient.
  • All Veterans to enjoy a state of positive physical and mental health and wellbeing, enabling them to contribute to wider aspects of society.
  • Veterans to have a secure place to live either through buying, renting or social housing.
  • Veterans to leave the Armed Forces with the resilience and awareness to remain law-abiding civilians.

What are the community assets and action around this?

Assets are those things that enhance the ability of individuals, communities and populations to maintain and sustain health and well-being. These include things like skills, capacity, knowledge, networks and connections, the effectiveness of groups and organisations and local physical and economic resources. They also include services or interventions that are already being provided or beginning to emerge which contribute to improved health and wellbeing outcomes.

Assets are hugely important to how we feel about ourselves, the strength of our social and community connections and how these shape our health and wellbeing.

Self-identifying as a former member or the dependent of one is an important asset, and can improve access to services and support.

Local peer support activities and projects are being delivered by veterans for veterans. Various local community projects, outdoor activities and outreach services have been designed and developed that support and include former members of the armed forces. There are also specific groups that bring veterans and former armed forces personnel together around common activities and interests.

Those who have served are also assets, supporting their communities, developing support for those struggling with transition to civilian life. This could be specialist support following additional training or a guiding hand to an individual or family who are experiencing hardship.

What significant factors are affecting this issue?

Nationally a study of serving personnel (2) showed that:

  • 4% reported probable post-traumatic stress disorder – the same as the general population.
  • 20% reported other common mental disorders – the same as the general population.
  • 13% reported alcohol misuse – twice the rate in the general population.
  • Regulars deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan were significantly more likely to report alcohol misuse than those not deployed.
  • Reservists were more likely to report probable post-traumatic stress disorder than those not deployed.
  • Regular personnel in combat roles were more likely than those in support roles to report probable post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Experience of mental health problems was not linked with number of deployments.
  • The overall rate of veteran suicide is no greater than in the general population. However, the risk of suicide in men aged 24 and younger who have left is two to three times higher than men of the same age in the general and serving population.

In almost every offence group, including violence against the person, the general population has a higher offending rate than the regular veteran population.  Veterans are also less likely to be in prison than the general population, taking into account age, gender and socio-economic profile.  Of those veterans who do have contact with the criminal justice system 6 out of 10 (59%) offended more than 10 years post discharge.

More than 9 out of 10 (94%) non-early Service leavers are in employment six months after leaving the Services, but only half (50%) of early Service leavers are (6).

What does the data tell us?

In Kirklees (3):

  • 1 in 12 (8%) of those aged over 18 have served in the Armed Forces at some time, more than 9 out of 10 (94%) were men.
  • Of all those aged 70 and over 1 in 3 (36%) had served, half (49%) of all men. (NB. Those aged 70 and over could have done National Service.)
  • This compares to 1 in 20 (5%) men aged 69 and under who had served or were still serving.
  • Of those aged 69 and under who had served, 2 out of 5 (39%) had served less than five years. The rate was higher in those aged 70 and over who might have joined for two years’ National Service.

In Kirklees half of all those who have served said their health was “good” (50%), only 1 in 8 (13%) said it was “poor”. However, those who had never served were much more likely to say their health was “good” (67%) and less likely to say their health was “poor” (8%).  Those who had served five or more years were more likely to say their health was “good” (57%).  There is little difference in the overall health between those aged 67 and over that have served and those that have not.

More than half of those who have served (54%) had a long-term health condition that limited their daily activities compared with 1 in 4 (27%) of those who had never served.  There is a higher rate at all ages – amongst 18-66 year olds the gap is 13% (37% in served population and 24% in civilian population) and amongst those aged 67 and over it is also 13% (62% in served population and 49% in civilian population) (3).

National research (4) shows that:

  • More than 1 in 4 service leavers reported that they found the return to civilian life was not as they expected, or harder.
  • A small minority of service leavers experience severe difficulties such as homelessness.
  • Levels of alcohol misuse in ex-Service personnel are double those of the general population.
  • Early Service leavers are more likely to have adverse outcomes (e.g. suicide, mental health problems) and risk-taking behaviours (e.g. heavy alcohol consumption, suicidal thoughts) than longer serving veterans.
  • There is also an increased risk of involvement in domestic abuse, and other difficult relationships at home.
  • The National Ex-Services Association indicates that up to 7% of the UK prison population (over 6,000 prisoners) are ex-Service personnel.
  • The most common mental health problems for ex-Service personnel are depression and anxiety disorders.
  • PTSD can develop in veterans of any age following a stressful event or situation of an exceptionally threatening or catastrophic nature. Initial indications from Iraq suggest that 4% of regular soldiers and 6% of reservists develop PTSD (5).

Nationally the veteran profile looks like this when compared to non-veterans (8):

Which groups are affected most by this issue?

Locally (3):

  • 2 out of 5 (39%) of those under 69 who have served are living alone, compared with less than 1 in 4 (22%) who have never served. The gap is much smaller in those aged 69 and over (39-46%).
  • 2 out of 3 (64%) of those under 69 who have served were qualified to at least level 2, which is lower than the rate amongst those who have never served (73%). They are also less likely to own their own home (58-68%), and more likely to have a household income below £20,000 (56-46%).

Where is this causing greatest concern?

The national picture shows that there are a higher proportion of veterans in Yorkshire and the Humber than nationally. There is no comparable data available to show whether Kirklees is similar to, or different from, similar areas.  Given the higher levels of low skills, low income, low home ownership and higher levels of disability amongst those who have served who are under 69, there is likely to be a higher concentration of younger ex-Service personnel in areas of higher deprivation.

Views of Local People

The level of support for the Armed Forces and those who have served is “overwhelmingly positive” and the military is more highly respected than other professions such as doctors and the police (7). 

What could commissioners and service planners consider?

Commissioners, service planners and Councillors should closely follow the recently launched government strategy for our veterans (9) which has a series of outcomes aimed to be delivered by 2028 across six key themes:

  • Community and relationships
  • Employment, education and skills
  • Finance and debt
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Making a home in civilian society
  • Veterans and the law

Commissioners, service planners and Councillors should also consider local community assets such as those outlined above so that they can support and build on local strengths and also understand where there are gaps and unmet needs in particular places or amongst particular communities.

The Council is a co-signatory to the Kirklees Armed Forces Community Covenant and has pledged to:

  • Continue to have a Cabinet Member act as the Champion for the Armed Forces whose role will be to lead on the issues relating to the Covenant.
  • Continue the Community Covenant Board comprising of all relevant Council Services and its key partners and chaired by the Cabinet Champion.
  • Ensure a senior manager supports the Armed Forces Champion, services the Community Covenant Board and is the lead contact within the Authority for liaison with the Armed Forces.
  • Implement the “SMART” action plan based on the key issues of health, housing, education, community and employment with a particular focus on those ex-Service personnel who are struggling with the transition to civilian life and the “pathways” of support available to them.
  • Work to improve the identification of Armed Forces personnel/veterans by Council, NHS and other services within Kirklees.
  • Consider identifying the families of those who are or have served in the armed forces to understand their needs in greater detail.

References and additional resources/ links

  1. Ministry of Defence. UK Armed Forces - Annual Personnel Report. April 2014 Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/312539/uk_af_annual_personnel_report_2014.pdf
  2. Fear N, Wood D, Wessely S. Health and Social Outcomes and Health Service Experiences of UK Military Veterans a summary of the evidence [Internet]. 2009. Available from: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130107105354/http:/www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/@ps/documents/digitalasset/dh_113749.pdf
  3. NHS Kirklees, Kirklees Council. Current Living in Kirklees Survey 2012. 2012.
  4. Forces in Mind Trust. The Transition Mapping Study Understanding the transition process for Service personnel returning to civilian life [Internet]. 2013. Available from: http://www.fim-trust.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/20130810-TMS-Report.pdf
  5. Sundin J, Fear NT, Iversen A, Rona RJ, Wessely S. PTSD after deployment to Iraq: conflicting rates, conflicting claims. Psychol Med [Internet]. 2010;40(3):367–82. Available from: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0033291709990791
  6. Mental Health Foundation, Forces in Mind Trust. The mental health of serving and ex-Service personnel [Internet]. 2013. Available from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/the-mental-health-of-serving-and-ex-service-personnel.pdf
  7. NatCen Social Research. British Social Attitudes Report [Internet]. 2012. Available from: http://www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk/latest-report/british-social-attitudes-29/key-findings/introduction.aspx
  8. Annual Population Survey: UK Armed Forces Veterans residing in Great Britain, 2017 Published 31 January 2019. Ministry of Defence. [Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/774937/20190128_-_APS_2017_Statistical_Bulletin_-_OS.pdf]
  9. HMSO. The strategy for our veterans – valued, contributing and supported. 2018. [available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/755915/Strategy_for_our_Veterans_FINAL_08.11.18_WEB.pdf]

Date this section was last reviewed

[Nov 2019] (CP)