As the summer festivals continue across Scotland and the Fringe and Military Tattoo hit Edinburgh, I’ve been continuing with a part of my role that’s most definitely not a fringe or seasonal activity – listening to and understanding the experiences of veterans and of the organisations that aim to support them.
Fuelled by what my recent Progress Report told me about how the Scottish Government and its partners are doing in delivering my recommendations (the subject of last month’s blog) and other information and feedback I’ve received over the summer, I’ve been turning my attention to engaging further on the transition journey and its challenges for today’s service leavers and their families. I’ve been looking at this from the perspective of the individual, support providers and the community. That’s a broad, but I believe essential, view point if I’m to get to the nub of what needs to improve.
Early in the month I attended a stakeholder meeting in London organised by Forces in Mind Trust. The aim was to discuss and critically review the Trust’s initial thinking toward the development of a programme approach – ‘Future Prioritiesand Next Steps-in support of Veterans’ health and wellbeing’.
One of the key points addressed was: Veteran and families’ health and well-being demands a holistic approach in order to mitigate ‘vulnerabilities’ and prepare the serving community better for civilian life – ie a focus on ‘fitness for society’. The forthcoming MoD transition policy and HARDFACTS framework would help identify those most at risk of failing to transition effectively. A most useful and informative meeting, and I will follow the development of this proposed programme with interest.
While in London I also had the opportunity to speak to Andrew Selous MP who has been asked by the Defence Secretary to author a new study to assess the support available to military families. One of the areas he will look at is ‘Transition to civilian life for the whole family’. I was pleased to be able to discuss this with him, including how there are different delivery models for many statutory services for veterans here in Scotland and I hope some of the points I made may help with his work.
Unfortunately, I cannot attend all the meetings and events I am invited to and members of my team have recently taken part in two very useful meetings arranged by Major Laura Cox, SO2 Transition, based at 51st Infantry Brigade & HQ Scotland. One was exploring Armed Forces Awareness Training for Local Authority Champions and the second was a working group to develop a Scotland Pathway for Transition. Both of these are interesting work streams which my office will continue to engage in.
I also travelled to Glasgow this month to meet Colin Borland, Director of Devolved Nations at the Federation of Small Businesses and Norman Yarwood, Head of the Ex-Forces Programme at the FDM Group, a global IT programme and project management consultancy. Both meetings were focussed on the employment prospects and support offered to ex-service personnel and it was great to hear about the good work going on and also the challenges which still face some of our veterans in gaining meaningful employment.
On one of the sunny days this summer, I enjoyed visiting some ex-service folk who had just completed their Wilderness Journey as part of the Venture Trust’s ‘Positives Futures’ programme, which is aimed at servicemen and women who may be finding it difficult to either transition fully into civilian life or are struggling with maintaining a civilian focussed identity. It was great to spend some time with them and hear their stories. I was very taken with the Venture Trust’s attempts to help them gain confidence and recognise their talent in the civilian world. My best wishes go to those who were there – you can do it!
I ended the month with a joint meeting with Active Stirling and Macroberts Arts Centre. Both organisations have developed programmes in sport and the performing arts for veterans and their families in the Stirling and Forth Valley areas. Neither organisation has traditional military connections but independently they both decided to develop programmes aimed at helping integrate veterans and families into the community. This is an exciting and innovative approach and I was delighted to be able to connect the two groups and help facilitate some joint working with them. Their collaborative approach is one I very much applaud and chimes with my own thinking about how organisations can come together to help welcome veterans into the community they have decided to settle in.
I hope these examples of some of the visits and meetings I’ve had offer a bit of an insight into how I will be looking at the many aspects of transition. Transition from the Military is one of life’s major crossroads and can be a complex and worrying time. The one thing which is certain is that it will be different for everyone. My own recent transition experience will be very different to others, but what all service leavers should be able to rely on is access to high quality support services, wherever and however they are delivered.