According to an independent assessment published today by the Scottish Veterans Commissioner Charlie Wallace, progress on supporting veterans in Scotland is to be applauded. However, there is more to do to ensure our veterans continue to receive the best possible levels of support and the services they need.
The 63 recommendations made by the Scottish Veterans Commissioner’s office across four in-depth reports published over the last four years – covering transition; housing; employability, skills and learning and health and wellbeing – were adopted wholesale by the Scottish Government. This assessment provides up-dates on the current status of these recommendations. A standard RAG (red, amber, green) rating, based on the Commissioner’s evaluation of progress, has then been applied to produce a ‘snap-shot’ report on how well government is doing against each recommendation.
By monitoring and regularly reporting progress by government and partners, the Commissioner aims to maintain focus on the recommendations, aid prioritisation and drive delivery to ensure our veterans receive the best possible levels of support.
Overall this first report tells a positive story of improvement but also shines a light on specific areas where increased effort may well be needed. This includes setting up a national managed clinical network to have oversight of healthcare delivery for veterans; ensuring we enable informed choice, as well as support in areas of employment and skills development; and further work on improving the overall Transition journey from military to civilian life.
Charlie Wallace, the Scottish Veterans Commissioner, said: “My predecessor Eric Fraser’s four reports, really got to the heart of the main areas of concern for the veterans community in Scotland and are acting as a catalyst for change. I want to build on that success and bring supportive challenge to the specific issues that remain or are evolving.
“To do that effectively, we need to know exactly ‘how we’re doing’ and be open and honest about the challenges that remain.
“Across the board the report clearly demonstrates significant progress. The headway made is extremely encouraging and we should take the time to acknowledge that success and the considerable effort of all those involved. That not only includes partners in public sector but also the third sector which plays a hugely significant role in supporting our veterans’ community.
“If Scotland is truly to be the ‘destination of choice for service leavers’ it’s important that we keep up the momentum. Some recommendations, particularly those requiring a joined-up approach to thinking and delivery, stand out as most challenging. Scottish Government Ministers recognise this and have been very clear with me on their commitment to move these forward.”
The Commissioner will also be engaging in emerging developments, including the output from the recent consultation on the 10 year Strategy for Our Veterans, where veterans, their families and representative bodies have engaged in the discussion on how best to deliver in Scotland to ensure the needs of an evolving Armed Forces and ex-service community are met.
Key achievements that stand out for the Scottish Veterans Commissioner
Information sharing and sign-posting to services – the effectiveness of information provision for service personnel, veterans and their families was referred to in a number of SVC recommendations across the four reports. There is still work to be done on this front but there is also strong evidence of improvement. Greatest progress has been made in addressing shortcomings in the provision of housing information where there were real problems with access to accurate, relevant and understandable information and guidance.
Champions networks – there are a large number of different types of Armed Forces and Veterans Champions across Scotland operating at varying degrees of maturity. Good progress has been made in trying to support and develop the ‘Champion’ role and to develop networks of champions. In particular, recent work on embedding the role and supporting the NHS Champions’ network and a Higher and Further Education network looks promising. This activity is important because we need to co-ordinate and consolidate effort and I will be taking a close interest in this over the next 12 months.
Employability, Skills & Learning – there have been a number of significant developments in these areas including: setting up the Veterans Employability Strategic Working Group of key partners to provide strategic leadership; creating a dedicated employability strand of funding from the Scottish Veterans Fund; and some good work in promoting the Modern Apprenticeship programme to veterans, their spouses and partners and to begin to translate and map qualifications to enable Scottish employers (especially SMEs) to understand and recognise skills and qualifications gained in the military.
Areas of greatest challenge that stand out for the Scottish Veterans Commissioner:
The transition process and preparations for it – while there have been some improvements over the last four years, challenges remain in reducing the barriers to successful transition from military to civilian life. These include: the quality and consistency of information, services and support offerings and the breadth, scope and relevance locally of what is offered. In addition, the involvement of partners/spouses in the overall process needs to improve.
The MOD’s nascent Defence Transition Service shows promise for a more holistic approach to better support the individual and their family through transition as they seek to make a home in civilian society. I look forward to seeing more detail as it emerges. The challenge will be to better align policy and delivery models between the UK Government and the Scottish Government. If this is not done, there is a potential vulnerability for the Service leaver and their family, be it in conflicting information or potential gaps in provision of a service. This will require close cooperation between Governments. I am pleased to see that the Veterans’ Strategy goes some way towards addressing this area of concern, but there will be more to do to ensure the best possible outcomes for individuals and their families.
Early service leavers – I feel there is still more that can be done to help Early Service Leavers to successfully integrate back into civilian society. There are still issues around recognising their qualifications and skills, providing appropriate employment opportunities, and understanding and meeting their healthcare needs. There are also challenges centred on the communities that will receive them and their understanding of veterans and what they have to offer.
Health care and Mental Health support – ‘a distinctive Scottish approach’ to veterans’ health is now being considered at strategic level and we need to see how this develops. I would like to see further progress soon on establishing a national managed clinical network to have oversight of delivery. Addressing issues around commitment to funding lifelong services and the costs of specialist care for those with severe and enduring injuries are priorities I’d also like to see progressed this year. Where mental health support is concerned, we’ve yet to see progress on the development of a Mental Health Action Plan for veterans for the long-term delivery of services and support, but I understand this will be pursued through the national managed clinical network when established. The recommendations and progress against them can be viewed here