Don’t Forget Veterans’ Needs in Scotland’s COVID-19 Recovery Plans

The Scottish Veterans Commissioner, Charlie Wallace, today released an interim ‘snapshot’ of progress against his evidence-based recommendations for government, aimed at improving services and support for Veterans and their families living in Scotland.

The Commissioner is flagging the importance of taking the results into account now, as the Scottish Government looks to refocus its economic and skills strategies to address the impacts of COVID-19 and to ‘Re-mobilise, Recover and Re-design’ NHS Scotland services.  His ask of Government and delivery partners is not to forget Veterans in the call to action in building Scotland’s post-COVID-19 recovery.   

Charlie Wallace, the Scottish Veterans Commissioner, said:

‘In these unprecedented times it is important to remain focused on our veterans and the issues that affect their lives.  This interim report aims to help the government maintain that focus as it seeks to understand the specific fall-out from the pandemic for veterans and their families and begins to shape its response’. 

‘Their experiences in the Armed Forces can make Veterans resilient people but the immediate and hard-hitting circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic will leave few Scots unaffected and Veterans and their families are no different.’ 

“What’s different since I last reported, is the potential ‘triple whammy’ we face of increased issues- unemployment, financial inequality and mental health –, as consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.  I am concerned about the particular impact on Service Leavers and Veterans, including Early Service Leavers and those Veterans already facing employment or mental health challenges.  I’m asking the Scottish Government and its delivery partners to take account of the status of my recommendations and of the specific needs of Veterans now as it shapes its recovery responses.”

What the Interim Report tells us

Employability, Skills & Learning – The Commissioner flagged issues with the recognition of Service Leavers’ and Veterans’ qualifications and skills and experience getting in the way of them competing for employment opportunities.  His latest assessment shows good progress but work needs to continue to build on those positive steps and he is pressing Ministers to drive that.  The report shows we also need to better align Veterans’ skills and abilities with known skills gaps in key sectors – something called for in his 2016 report on Employment, Skills and Learning and which will be even more important now.

Early service leavers (ESLs) – Again, the Commissioner highlighted concerns regarding Early Service Leavers, their vulnerabilities and levels of support to enable them to successfully integrate back into civilian society in his last progress report.  His 2019 Positive Futures Report called for government to look afresh at what the transition process currently offers these young people.  This Interim Report tells of little progress on this front since some early action in response to his 2015 Transition Report, which recommended incentives for employers – to extend recruitment incentives in order to encourage employers to recruit ESLs and for the marketing of Youth Employment Initiatives to early and young Service Leavers.  ESLs have long been likely to be at risk of a poor transition back to Civvy Street and their future is even more vulnerable as we recover from the pandemic.

Health care and Mental Health supportThe interim Report shows evidence of good progress in developing the Commissioner’s vision of a ‘distinctive Scottish approach to Veterans’ health, with the crucial step of establishing a Scottish Veterans’ Care Network in place.  It is through that tried and tested Managed Clinical Network (MCN) approach that a number of the Commissioner’s 2018 Health and Wellbeing recommendations are being managed by the Scottish Government, including the development of a Veterans’ Mental Health Action Plan.  That effort must not let up.  As Health and Care services, paused during the COVID-19 health crisis resume it will be vital to keep the momentum going and deliver on these recommendations.  We know an increased risk of mental health problems and lower mental wellbeing are ‘hidden’ costs of the pandemic and that these will result in an increase in mental health support requirements generally.  So the delivery of Mental Health Services consistently across Scotland, including reducing barriers to Veterans accessing those services, must now be a top priority.

Background information

Monitoring action taken in response to his recommendations is an important aspect of the Commissioner’s role and he publishes annual independent assessments on progress via an on-line tool.  His first such report, published last June, praised the Scottish Government and its partners for the tangible progress demonstrated but warning of more to be done in areas that had not yet received the level of attention necessary to effect change.  Areas, like Skills development and employment will be of even greater concern now.

His next full report will not be until the end of this year, due to delays in the provision of detailed data from government, with resources being re-prioritised to deal with the immediate demands of  the COVID 19 pandemic and its fallout.  

With the health and economic emergency expected to have such a serious impact on so many, including the Veterans’ community, the Commissioner felt it important to maintain a focus on progress in delivering existing recommendations, to celebrate successes along the way and to ensure government and partners maintain a focus on certain areas where there is already little doubt about the increased effort that will be necessary as the country moves into recovery. 

The interim report, which looks at recommendation from the SVC’s four in-depth reports – covering transition; housing; employability, skills and learning and health and wellbeing – offers a standard RAG (red, amber, green) rating, based on the independent Commissioner’s assessment of progress based on evidence he has seen or been able to identify over the past year (at least 8 months of which were unaffected by the pandemic).

Unlike the full annual report, the mid-year report offers a light-touch ‘snap-shot’ on how well government is doing against each recommendation.  A full assessment on status will be made at the end of this year when all being well in containing the virus, full written up-dates from the Scottish Government against each of the recommendations are anticipated.

Quick facts

  • A Veteran is anyone age 16 and over who has served at least one day in the Armed Forces (Regular or Reserve).  Increasingly our Veterans are of working age, with about 1,800 individuals a year leaving the Armed Forces and choosing to settle in Scotland.
  • There are currently around 250,000 Veterans living in Scotland.  That’s around 5% of the population, plus their partners and families. 
  • Interim Progress Report Results: Since 2015, 18 out of 63 SVC recommendations have been fully implemented and 15 implemented but work continuing to embed, equating to 53 per cent.  Of the 21 partially implemented recommendations 9 are in Health Care; 8 in Employment, Skills & Learning; 2 are in Transition; and 2 in Housing.  7 recommendations have not been implemented at all and 2 have been superseded by developments.
  • This is the 2nd progress report issued by the Scottish Veterans Commissioner but is only an interim report, the next full report is expected at the end of the year.
  • The Commissioner is currently working on the first in a series of papers on getting transition from the Armed Forces right, the overview for which was set in his ‘Positive Futures’ paper of November 2019.  Positive Futures – Employment, Skills and Learning will publish later this year, having been delayed due to the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.