Happy New Year from the Commissioner
I’d like to wish everyone a happy new year from myself and the SVC team. I’d also like to thank all who have taken the time to share their experiences and views with me so far. Listening to inspiring veterans, seeing the admirable work of both public and third sector organisations and witnessing the dedication and passion of so many to help improve life for Scotland’s veterans has been an inspiring start to my term of office. It’s been a very warm welcome to the role, and I look forward to meeting with many more of you in the coming year. In the meantime, see below for an updated snapshot of some of my recent engagements.
Scotland’s Bravest Manufacturing Company
I met with the inspiring team at Scotland’s Bravest Manufacturing Company – a social enterprise providing meaningful employment and accredited training for veterans. The company has gone from strength-to-strength over the years, winning awards and securing significant contracts that help demonstrate the valuable skills and ethics that veterans can bring to the workplace.
Veterans Housing Scotland
I attended the launch of Veterans Housing Scotland’s campaign to secure 25 more homes for veterans by 2025. The campaign promotes partnerships between charities and social housing providers which will enable veterans to be nominated for social tenancies – an effective approach which I fully endorse. Midlothian Council was the first housing provider to sign up, committing to allocate two properties a year to nominated disabled veterans and their families – an encouraging start. The very talented Edinburgh Military Wives Choir provided splendid entertainment for the evening.
See Me explored the experiences of veterans all over Scotland to launch The Guard campaign, which aims to encourages veterans who are struggling with their mental health to ask for help more quickly. On average it takes more than 10 years for a veteran to seek support for their mental health, with many reaching crisis point before telling anyone. This is a vital campaign putting the stories of five veterans at its heart.
I was invited to the launch of the campaign at Waverley station, where portraits of the veterans were on display, accompanied by a QR code which people can scan to hear their stories. I met the veterans who had bravely put themselves forward for the campaign, including Stacey, who now works for Combat Stress, supporting fellow veterans with their mental health. You can view more about the campaign here.
Forces Children Scotland
I met with Laura Falconer and Carly Elliott of Forces Children Scotland to hear more about their broad programme of work supporting children and young people from Forces and Veteran families. One of my priorities in the years ahead is to explore available support for spouses and families, and this offered valuable initial insight into some of the great work already being done in this crucial area.
John Muir Way
Earlier this year, a team of veterans, serving personnel from 6SCOTS, and staff from Sacro’s Veterans Mentoring and Forces of Nature services came together to complete the 134-mile John Muir Way. The walk was organised to highlight the difficulties faced by military veterans and promote the life-changing support available to them. I was honoured to receive them at the end of the walk and congratulate them on their accomplishment. Everyone was in good spirits despite very inclement weather, and they were even joined by a piper on the final leg of their journey!
Scottish Poppy Appeal and Remembrance
A key event in the veteran community’s calendar for many reasons, I was delighted to attend the Parliamentary Reception for the launch of the Scottish Poppy Appeal. The annual appeal plays a huge role in reinforcing the importance of remembrance while raising vital funds for our veterans, and I’m hugely grateful to all volunteers and supporters for their contribution.
As part of Scotland’s commemorations, I was honoured to lay wreaths at the opening of the Glasgow Garden of Remembrance in October, and at the Stone of Remembrance in Edinburgh on Remembrance Sunday. The Services were a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by so many and an opportunity to reflect on the immense courage and dedication shown by all of our Armed Forces.
Progress Report 2022
On 16 November I published my first independent assessment of progress in the delivery of recommendations made to Scottish Ministers which aim to make things better for Scotland’s 250,000 veterans and their families.
This is the fourth year the progress assessment has been published and my assessment shows considerable progress, despite my fears that the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic would result in a slowing pace of delivery. There does however remain some stubborn challenges in putting some SVC recommendations into practice – which I intend to take a close look at in the next 6 months – and my concern that the cost-of-living crisis may derail or slow the pace of delivery of some priorities.
Engagements, events and activities
Below is a snapshot of some of the many engagements, events and activities the Scottish Veterans Commissioner, Lt Cdr (retired) Susie Hamilton has undertaken since starting her role.
I kicked off my new role with a visit to Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory, where I met with some of the 34 disabled veterans employed to make poppies and wreaths for the Scottish Poppy Appeal. They shared some of the challenges they had faced upon leaving the Forces, and highlighted the difference that support from organisations such as Poppyscotland and my former employer, Scottish Veterans Residences, can make in helping veterans find their feet. I also had the opportunity to chat with new Poppyscotland director Austin Hardie, who updated me on the charity’s work and future plans.
I had further opportunity to hear the first-hand experiences of veterans at the Whitekirk Hill 5K, a SSAFA fundraising event organised by Mo and Gerry Taggart, who are veterans and longstanding, dedicated supporters of the Forces community.
Afterwards, I dropped by the Poppyscotland Sportive Station in Gifford, where we were passed by hundreds of cyclists taking to the roads to help raise vital funds for the charity – some cycling up to 102 miles! The sun was shining and it was great to see so many members of the community out to support their veteran brothers and sisters.
I had the pleasure of meeting veterans from a diverse range of backgrounds when I was invited to the ACVC Hub exhibition in Glasgow, where an impressive collection of their arts and crafts works was on display. The exhibition was sponsored by Walking with the Wounded’s MEDALS programme, which helps veterans improve their wellbeing through a range of activities. This was a commendable example of organisations working together and it was great to see the positive impact of the partnership.
When speaking with veterans about their experiences, one of the most frequently raised topics is health and mental health, and the accessibility of appropriate support. For that reason, it was an early priority to meet with health and mental officials from the Scottish Government, including National Clinical Director Jason Leitch and Dr Charles Winstanley. Dr Winstanley chairs the Scottish Government’s Implementation Board for the new Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service, which was developed in response to a recommendation in the 2018 SVC Report on Veterans’ Health and Wellbeing. I look forward to engaging with Dr Winstanley, Prof Leitch, and other officials regularly to ensure that adequate progress is being made to meet the health and mental health care of veterans.
Most recently, I was delighted to host a meeting at SVC HQ in Edinburgh with Veterans Commissioner for Northern Ireland Danny Kinahan, Veterans Commissioner for Wales James Phillips, and Independent Veterans Advisor to the UK Government David Richmond. This was the first time the independent veterans’ representatives for all four UK nations came together face to face, and provided an important opportunity for us to discuss ways that we can work together and learn from each other. The first meeting of our Veterans Voice working group was an important step in our aim to ensure the voice of lived experience is at the centre of our work, and I look forward to working together closely to improve outcomes and maximise opportunities for our veterans and their families.
Looking ahead to November, I will be undertaking my first assessment of Scottish Government progress against SVC recommendations. This allows us to identify and celebrate successes, but crucially it also helps us to highlight the areas where progress is slow and challenge those responsible to refocus their attentions. I look forward to sharing my findings on this in due course.