What an interesting and insightful start I’ve had since taking up the position of Scottish Veterans Commissioner.
At the beginning of October, I had the perfect opportunity to get an overview of Scotland’s veterans landscape at the Armed Forces & Veterans Champions Gathering in Edinburgh. Speaking with representatives from across Scotland’s local authorities and NHS boards gave me a first-hand insight into key issues and differing levels of services and support throughout the country. I hope to reach as many people as possible in my role, and to begin expanding my network with such a wide-reaching and knowledgeable group was an excellent start.
The following week, I got an update on the great work of SSAFA Scotland at its annual conference in Stirling, where delegates heard from a number of speakers about the future structure of the organisation and the ongoing vital support work being done by volunteers across the country.
I was also asked by the Venture Trust to help launch research findings on its Positive Futures programme – an innovate package aimed at helping those struggling to adapt to civilian life. To date, ninety veterans have participated in the programme, which includes taking part in a seven-day journey in Scotland’s wilderness areas to develop new skills and build confidence and independence.
The research was very positive, with none of the participants reoffending since the start of the programme and 43% entering employment, education or training. The wider benefit to society through volunteering, a reduction in interactions with state services, and tax gains through increased employment was shown to be significant. It was recommended that the model would work with veterans requiring support in other parts of the UK, and I’ll be following the potential expansion and future successes of the project with interest.
On a Parliamentary level, I have been busy making connections and laying out my views, travelling to Westminster to give evidence in the second part of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee inquiry on Mental Health & the Armed Forces, which focused on the provision of care. I met with MPs beforehand to discuss my aims in my role, and how we might support each other to create an environment which allows the veterans community to reach its full potential.
At the end of November, I was invited to take part in a consultation, led by the Forces in Mind Trust, on improving delivery of the Armed Forces Covenant. A fascinating 24 hours with a rich mix of people from a wide variety of organisations, including representatives from the Scottish, Welsh and NI administrations, central & local government, and individual organisations such as the Big Lottery Fund, RUSI, Shared Intelligence and X-Forces Enterprise.
We discussed where we are with the Covenant and more importantly where we might wish to go. There was no holding back with some unpalatable truths, however, the conclusions about how to go forward were extremely positive and I look forward to seeing the outcomes and recommendations from the Forces in Mind Trust in due course.
As my appointment came at a time of heightened remembrance around the Armistice centenary, I was privileged to attend some of the commemorative events taking place. I was honoured to lay wreaths at the opening of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Gardens of Remembrance, and later in November, to attend a ceremony for the unveiling of the Scottish War Poets Memorial in Edinburgh’s Makars’ Court.
I also attended the launch of the Scottish Poppy Appeal, which raises hundreds of thousands of pounds annually to support veterans and their families. It has been heartening to see so many people of all ages pay their respects to the fallen with such a diverse range of tributes, and to see the important role played by Scotland’s veterans community when it comes to remembrance. I was particularly proud to perform my last duty in uniform at the Service of Remembrance in Stirling on the 11th November.
With the treatment of our veterans taking more of a front seat in the minds of many, it has been an opportune time to move into my new role as commissioner. Taking this momentum forward over the coming year, I plan to look at the progress made by the Scottish Government on the recommendations set out by Eric Fraser, my predecessor, while continuing to listen to the current needs of our ex-Service community and champion its role in our society.