Making a transition from military to civilian life – how can we (better) support veterans in rural areas?

There are some 2.5 million UK armed forces veterans living in households across Great Britain. The Armed Forces Covenant was introduced in 2011 to influence support and policies directed at the veteran community. The Government published a new Veterans Strategy in November 2018. Alongside this, a consultation on ways to implement the strategy is open until 21 February 2019. What support is available to former members of the armed forces – and how does this operate in rural areas?    
Jessica Sellick investigates.

How many armed forces veterans are there? For statistical purposes a veteran is defined as ‘individuals aged 16+ years in households in Great Britain and have previously served at least one day in the UK Armed Forces’. According to the annual population survey, compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2016 there were an estimated 2.5 million UK armed forces veterans residing in households across Great Britain. Veterans were predominantly white (98%), male (90%), and aged 65 years and over (63%). The veteran profile is heavily influenced by those who served in the Second Wold War and subsequent National Service. Veterans are estimated to make up 5% of all household residents aged 16+ years in England. Data on armed forces veterans looks at their region of residence. This reveals how over a quarter of veterans (28%) were estimated to be living in South East and South West England.

What support is available to armed forces veterans in England? Government policy is centred on the Armed Forces Covenant. This is a statement of the moral obligation which exists between the nation, the Government and the Armed Forces in return for the sacrifices they make/made. Published in May 2011, and enshrined in the Armed Forces Act 2011 (AFA), it applies to those who served in the army, air force and navy. The Covenant contains two core principles: (1) no disadvantage: that current or former members of the armed forces, or their families, should not be at a disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services. (2) Special consideration: this is appropriate in some cases, particularly for those who have been injured or bereaved. The Ministry of Defence also coordinates a cross-Government Armed Forces Covenant and Veterans Board. The AFA requires the Secretary of State for Defence to report to Parliament annually on the progress made with the Covenant – and specifically in 4 main areas: healthcare, education, housing and the operation of inquests.

The Armed Forces Covenant is supported by the Community Covenant and the Corporate Covenant. The Community Covenant encourages local communities to support the armed forces community in their area. Every Local Authority in England has signed a Community Covenant Partnership with their local armed forces. The Corporate Covenant is a voluntary pledge from businesses and other organisations who wish to demonstrate their support for the armed forces community (e.g. employment support for veterans).

The Ministry of Defence also provides a £10 million annual Covenant Fund and a five-year £30 million Aged Veterans Fund.

In November 2018 the Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Office published ‘the strategy for our veterans.’ Under the strapline ‘valued, contributing, supported’, the strategy is a UK-wide document endorsed by UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments. The document focuses on delivering public services to veterans over the next 10 years so that ‘by 2028 every veteran feels more valued, supported and empowered.’ The strategy contains three key themes: (1) veterans are first and foremost civilians and continue to be of benefit to wider society; (2) veterans are encouraged and enabled to maximise their potential as civilians; and (3) veterans are able to access support that meets their needs through public and voluntary sectors. The strategy contains five cross-cutting themes (i.e., collaboration, coordination, data, perception and recognition); and focuses its attention on six areas that affect veterans’ lives: (a) community and relationships; (b) employment, education and skills; (c) finance and debt; (d) health and wellbeing; (e) making a home in civilian life; and (f) veterans and the law.

Alongside the strategy, the Government published a consultation paper to gather information and seek views on how to implement the strategy [the consultation closes on 21 February 2019] as well as a document summarising provision available in the UK Armed Forces charity sector. This sits alongside the Veterans Gateway. Established in June 2017, the Gateway provides a single point of contact for veterans and is convened by a consortium of organisations and Armed Forces charities, including The Royal British Legion, SSAFA – the Armed Forces charity, Poppyscotland, Combat Stress and Connect Assist.  

Each Armed Forces Service provides both individual services information and collective tri-service guidance to service personnel on leaving and transitioning to civilian life.

In England, employment support is available through the Career Transition Partnership [a partnership between the Ministry of Defence and Right Management Ltd] and Jobcentre Plus which has an armed forces champion in every district. The Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) has commissioned the Universities of Salford and York to undertake a two-year project (2017-2019) looking at how service leavers and their families experience mainstream social security benefits as part of their transition to civilian life.

Housing support is available through the Joint Service Housing Advice Office (JSHAO) and Forces Help to Buy pilot.

Veterans UK, part of the Ministry of Defence, administers armed forces pension schemes and compensation payments.  

Veterans in England, Scotland and Wales are entitled to priority access to secondary healthcare for conditions suspected to be due to their services in the Armed Forces. The NHS Constitution states that ‘the NHS will ensure that in line with the Armed Forces Covenant, those in the armed forces, reservists, their families and veterans are not disadvantaged in accessing health services in the area they reside’ (pages 3-4). While service personnel are able to access community mental health services from the Defence Medical Services (DMS) up to 6 months after leaving; in April 2017 the NHS launched a ‘veterans mental health transition, intervention and liaison service’ and a ‘veterans mental health complex treatment service’ – both are intended to provide enhanced local community based services for veterans. Mental health support is also available from The Royal British Legion (RBL) and Combat Stress.

Other organisations that provide services and support to veterans include (but are not limited to): Citizens Advice, Cobseo, SSAFA, Turn2us, Help for Heroes, and The Not Forgotten Association.  The Veterans & Families Research Hub (VFR) was set up in 2017 by the FiMT, Lord Ashcroft and Anglia Ruskin University to act as a repository for UK and international research and resources on military veterans and their families so as to inform policy development and service delivery. The hub contains research on a number of themes including training, employment, finance, housing, health, legal and relationships/communication.  The Hub contains reports and studies of initiatives in rural areas – all of these are currently based in the United States.

Taken as a collective, there are an array of policies and initiatives. How do veterans, their family members and carers navigate this to find the right support – and when they need it?

How is this support available to veterans living in rural areas? There are two main sources of statistics about veterans: the Annual Population Survey and the Census. While these provide estimates on the size of the UK Armed Forces veteran population, and the characteristics of veterans (e.g. their age, location, health status, employment) – they both look at one point in time (for the Census this is 2011 and for the APS 2016). While the Census looks at location (by county, Local Authority and clinical commissioning group) this information is not presented according to the Rural Urban Classification. In practice, this means there is no spatial or geographical component to the data analysis so we do not know how precisely many veterans live in rural communities. Similarly, many of the statistics collect data on veterans of ‘working age’; how many older veterans (aged 65 years and over) are living in rural areas?  In the United States, for example, the Department of Veterans Affairs has an Office of Rural Health as part of attempts to provide accessible care. Almost one-quarter of all veterans in the United States, some 4.7 million people, leaving active military careers now reside in rural communities.

While in the UK there is some momentum in transition for those leaving the Armed Forces, what support is available for those who left their military career long ago? For older veterans (born before 1 January 1950) some of the projects funded by the Aged Veterans Fund are operating in rural areas (e.g. in North Yorkshire, Cornwall):  what learning is emerging around ensuring coverage and accessibility in rural, coastal and urban settings? How do older veterans living in rural areas move into, through and out of the projects? How does the support they offer align with other forms of mainstream support for older veterans? Do older veterans supported by these projects go on to access support from service charities and/or mainstream providers? The work of the Aged Veterans projects may also provide new insights into any similarities and differences between the health and care needs of older veterans and those of the general population in rural areas. The data tends to show that there are no differences between veterans’ and non-veterans’ self-reported general health, and health conditions. For example, 35% of veterans and 36% of non-veterans aged 16-64 years - and 18% of veterans and 19% of non-veterans aged 65+ years - reported their general health to be very good.

With Government committed to meeting the needs of older veterans as well as the wider veteran community; what more can now be done to understand and better support the physical, social and emotional needs of all veterans [their families and carers] in rural communities? 

Jessica is a researcher/project manager at Rose Regeneration. Her current work includes evaluating two veteran support projects (in Cornwall and North Yorkshire); supporting public sector bodies to measure social value; evaluating a hospital avoidance service; and undertaking a piece of work on migration.

She is also a senior research fellow at the National Centre for Rural Health and Care. In her spare time Jessica sits on the board of a housing association.

She can be contacted by email or telephone 01522 521211. Website: @RoseRegen


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