Your ‘new’ Veterans Commissioner, one year on

I cannot believe that it has been a year since I took up my appointment as Scottish Veterans Commissioner from Eric Fraser.  It has been fascinating meeting so many people both from within the military and veteran’s communities and from society in general.  So many people who have been inspirational in their own ways whether they are overcoming their own personal challenges or whether they are prepared to sacrifice so much of their time to help others.  It is not difficult to remain motivated to do what I can to help our veterans when presented with such inspiration.

So what have I been up to?  First of all, I have been out and about trying to get a feel for the challenges our veterans are facing.  Noting the powerful recommendations my predecessor made, I wanted to see how these recommendations were being taken on in reality.  I asked the Scottish Government to report to me on how they thought they were getting on – bearing in mind that they had accepted all 63 recommendations that were made.  You can see the Scottish Government’s responses and my own assessment here.

Without doubt, there has been some pretty good progress across a number of the recommendations and there are some heartening tales of success.  However, the picture is not universally good.  There is still much to do.  To be fair to the Scottish Government, I am constantly reminded of their determination to keep the shoulder to the wheel.  I will be asking them for an update on progress at the beginning of next year.  In the meantime, please continue to let me know what you think of their progress – don’t forget to give me evidence to back up your comments. 

One theme that rises above all others in my discussions is the process of transition from service life to Civvy Street.  I am therefore pretty focused on it right now.  It seems to me that if we can get the transition process right, then the chances of individuals being able to face the challenges of Civvy Street will improve.  We are unique in that the transition process has to cater for such a wide variety of people from extremely senior military people who have had long military careers to those that might have been discharged at short notice because of a medical condition after only a year in uniform. Developing a process that is capable of dealing with such a wide variety is a challenge.  And for us here in Scotland, there is the added complication of devolution. 

Before leaving the Armed Forces, an individual is looked after by the MOD.  Therefore, it is the MOD’s responsibility to prepare that individual to leave the Services.  But the day the individual leaves, many of the things that will affect them daily such as health, housing, employment, skills and education become the responsibility of the Scottish Government.  The emphasis therefore shifts, and the Scottish Government must be prepared to receive and support the veteran and his/her family as they become part of the civilian world.  I am in the process of writing a paper that aims to lay all this out and will hopefully generate a few conversations across the country.  Watch out for this paper on my website next month.

Finally, thank you to all those who have been so inspirational over the last year.  I have so often felt quite humbled by your enthusiasm and zest for life, coupled with a real pride in being a Veteran.