Room for optimism?

Last month I published my first independent assessment of progress made by the Scottish Government in supporting our veterans’ community.  This snapshot showed good progress in some areas – it certainly revealed to me that areas of the Scottish Government are serious about trying to improve the world of our veterans’ community.  Coupled to this, I also had meetings with a number of Scottish Government Ministers and Cabinet Secretaries with relevant responsibilities to get their insights into progress and discuss how we might continue to drive change in key areas.

I met with Minister for Mental Health Clare Haughey MSP to discuss mental health support for veterans

By monitoring and regularly reporting on progress in this manner, my aim is to make sure the Scottish Government maintains an appropriate focus on the recommendations and how they may deliver them.

Overall, things look pretty positive.  There is clear evidence of progress being made, particularly in the areas of information sharing and sign-posting to services, and with the establishment of Armed Forces and Veterans Champions networks within Local Authorities, NHS Boards, and Higher and Further Education institutions. There has been some progress in the area of employability, skills and learning as a whole which is encouraging: the formation of a Veterans Employability Strategic Working Group and the creation of a dedicated employability strand of funding from the Scottish Veterans Fund are examples of this. 

However, in our world, the job is never done.  It is good to see that these recommendations have been a catalyst for change, but the focus must be on keeping the momentum behind the changes going.  The Scottish Government must not take its foot off the pedal and it must be alive to the changing demands of our community. 

In putting out this progress report, I invited public dialogue.  Here are some of the comments I have received: 

“Less talk more positive action!!!!!”

“We need to see an increase in veterans accessing things like Men’s Sheds and other wellbeing organisations.”

“We do not need to see organisations telling us how well they are doing, if we can’t see statistically noticeable improvements in the veteran care they provide.”

“there is some great stuff within this update, but like most things veteran related it feels like too little, too late”

Further feedback included the view that 63 recommendations are too many, dividing focus. However, there is also a view that a lot of small changes spanning a wide range of areas is required to meet the diverse needs of veterans of all ages and backgrounds across the country. It also results in a greater number of organisations and decision makers being compelled to bring veterans’ requirements into focus and maintain this position going forward. Whatever your point of view, the critical thing is that veterans are not forgotten.

All this work has led me to conclude that the area that I must focus on is the challenge of transition from Service Life to Civvy Street.  If we do not get this right, then the likelihood of demands on public services increase.  I believe more attention should be given to the involvement of families and improving alignment in policy and service delivery between the UK Government and the Scottish Government.

I also think more can be done to help early service leavers, and more work is needed in some areas of health support and services. Addressing commitment to funding lifelong services and the costs of specialist care for those with severe and enduring injuries are priorities, and where mental health support is concerned, we’ve yet to see progress on the development of a Mental Health Action Plan for veterans.

I will continue to do my best to address these and other concerns and will continue to take all feedback on board so that I can continue to advocate for further improvement.