Office for Veterans Affairs announcements and catching up with the community

We seem to be rushing through February when I was reminded this week that I’ve not yet sent out my usual monthly blog!  Last year most blogs were my own thoughts and observations, but this year I am planning to include more guest blogs from a variety of different individuals, all with unique stories to tell of what it’s like living in, and working for, our veterans community.  Watch out for the first of these next month!

This month I’d like to touch first on announcements we are seeing emerge from the Office for Veterans Affairs (OVA) which was formed within Cabinet Office last summer.  With responsibilities for veterans across the UK, the OVA has the aim of ensuring the interests of veterans are championed at the heart of government.  It coordinates action across Whitehall departments, like Health, Transport and Housing and collaborates with the devolved governments, local government and voluntary organisations to ensure government commitments to veterans are met.

Announced in January, the new Veterans Railcard will be available from Armistice Day this November.  I understand that Transport Scotland is looking at how discounted train travel might best be introduced at the same time in Scotland.  Earlier this month OVA announced that military veterans are to be guaranteed interviews for some civil service jobs.  Starting from spring this year with pilots in the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence, the Cabinet Office and the Home Office the scheme will build on the Going Forward into Employment Programme, broadening the eligible roles to jobs at all levels.  I will be keeping a close eye on how both these initiatives shape up.

Nearer to home, I have continued my engagement and conversations with serving personnel as well as veterans as I seek to learn more about their experiences of employment as they prepare to leave the Forces.  At the beginning of the month my travels took me north to the Moray coast to RAF Lossiemouth and on to Poppy Scotland’s Welfare Centre and to Skills Development Scotland’s offices in Inverness.  We picked the worse of the weather to travel, with storm Ciara chasing us up and then back down through Spey valley, although the scenery was stunning!

With Air Vice Marshall Ross Paterson at RAF Lossiemouth

I also visited Falkirk Veterans, a vibrant group completely staffed by volunteers who bake, cook lunch, fundraise, provide free yoga sessions, and much more.  As part of the local community, the group also opens its doors to the wider Falkirk and Grangemouth civilian communities.

My thanks go to all who were involved in arranging and taking part in these recent visits.   Having face to face conversations with individuals is so important, allowing me to get an understanding of what challenges they face both after Service and as they prepare to leave.  Meanwhile, our civilian communities are busy preparing to welcome veterans into their midst and I recently joined a group learning the basics of curling.  Curling is a fantastic social sport and provides a great team atmosphere. Allen Gibson and Hammy McMillan from Active Stirling have created a bespoke programme for veterans and their families.  As you can see, a great time was had by all!

Curling at Active Stirling

This month I was delighted to be asked to speak to delegates at the second Further Education and Higher Education (HE:FE) Veterans Champions Network conference.  It was great to hear that 88% of universities and 70% of colleges across Scotland have now signed the AF Covenant, with the majority having official Veterans and AF’s Champions within their establishments.  Credit for the establishment of this network must go to Glasgow Caledonian and Edinburgh Napier Universities who have picked up the mantle and are leading the way driving positive action but I commend all those learning institutions who are now seeing the value and committing to the Covenant and appointing Champions within their organisations. 

As I argued in ‘Positive Futures’, new Service leavers and their families, and our existing veterans, must be supported to make informed choices about their future.  Their individual needs and aspirations are important, and it’s important for them and for our economy that they are encouraged and supported to maximise their potential and flourish on civvy street.  The HE:FE sector provides an excellent opportunity to do just that. 

Champions are well placed to help people see the benefits of further learning and how to grasp the opportunities that are there for them.  They can help tackle some of the biggest barriers to people taking up further learning, such as seeing learning as ‘not being for them’ and their influence can help people see what’s really possible.  Service leavers don’t always see the transferable skills – or Meta skills – they have, or that these skills are what employers want and need.  The education sector has so much to offer our veterans’ community in helping individuals and their families adapt and grow.  It’s an exciting time to be involved and help make a difference!