New Veterans Commissioner assesses how far we’ve come in making things better for Scotland’s veterans

Scotland’s Veterans Commissioner (SVC) today published her assessment of progress in the delivery of recommendations made to Scottish Ministers which aim to make things better for Scotland’s 250,000 veterans and their families.

This is the fourth year the progress assessment has been published; the first for Scotland’s third Veterans Commissioner and former Royal Navy Marine Engineer Officer, Susie Hamilton. 

The Commissioner’s assessment shows considerable progress, despite fears that the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic would result in a slowing pace of delivery.There does however remain some stubborn challenges in putting SVC recommendations into practice that she intends to take a very close look at in the year ahead and a concern that the cost-of-living crisis may derail priorities.

Susie Hamilton commented:

“There is always more to do but I’m pleased to report on what is currently a positive picture overall, much having been achieved through solid partnership working across the public and third sectors. 

“Of particular note is significant steps in implementing our recommendations with the Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Action plan delivered last December; the Veterans’ Homelessness Protection Pathway published in January this year and the five year programme which has been set in place to attract veterans to employment in the NHS in Scotland – a win: win for veterans and NHS Scotland.”

The annual assessment offers an overview of meaningful progress but also flags-up where things are not going so well and where more attention is needed.

Susie added:

“Providing scrutiny and supportive challenge is a key aspect of my role and I am pleased to have been given the space and authority to do that.  No veteran should have to struggle to get the services and support they need or be left behind because of system failure or unfairness. 

“However, there remain some stubborn challenges to delivery of a small number of SVC recommendations that I intend to take a very close look at in the year ahead.

“I do have a serious concern over the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. Not only over the risk that we could see some actions de-prioritised or even set-aside completely but also over the impact of spending cuts to public and third sector services and greater numbers of people, including our veterans, living in poverty.  The crisis could see increasing numbers of veterans facing homelessness or unable to afford sufficient food or keep a home warm.”

Significant steps forward in the delivery of SVC recommendations include:

Veterans Health and Wellbeing – The Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Action Plan recommended by SVC was delivered last December and work to implement the new service has begun under the leadership of Dr Charles Winstanely. This is a significant piece of work, with the potential to transform veterans’ access to timely mental health support and treatment services. Separately, the development of a new treatment Pathway for the small number of Veterans in Scotland who have experienced polytrauma addresses two recommendations made in  the SVC report – Veterans Health and Wellbeing: A Distinctive Scottish Approach, 2018.

The Veterans Homelessness prevention Pathway has been co-produced and published – No one who has served their country should face homelessness or have to sleep rough.  The specific Veterans’ Pathway was published in January this year.  It’s needed to ensure that every veteran has a safe place to call home and I’d like to see it implemented in full as soon as possible.  That includes action to address the issue of ‘delayed homelessness’ identified in the SVC’s Housing report of June 2021.

On employability and skills development – A 5 year programme has been set in place to attract veterans to employment in the NHS in Scotland – a win: win for veterans and NHS Scotland –  which makes good on a recommendation in the SVC’s 2018 Health and Wellbeing report.  In-roads have also been made to SVC recommendations on the alignment of military and civilian skills and qualifications and on ensuring that advice and guidance is relevant to local labour market conditions.

View the full 2022 Progress Report here.

Background

The progress report, introduced in June 2019, is a tool used by the Scottish Veterans Commissioner (SVC) to capture, track and report on action taken in response to her recommendations made to the Scottish Government to help improve support and services for Scotland’s Veteran’s community. There were originally 63 recommendations in total, taken from four in-depth reports published since the first Commissioner took up appointment in 2014.

A standard RAG (red, amber, green and amber/green) rating, based on facts supplied by Scottish Government officials and the Commissioner’s own knowledge of developments, has been applied to each recommendation to indicate the progress that has been made towards meeting it.

For the first time the Commissioner has assessed progress towards 18 newer, longer-term, outcome-focussed recommendations. These were made in the second Commissioner’s 3 Positive Futures reports which looked specifically at getting transition from the Armed Forces right in Scotland. Where broader conditions have changed, the decision has been taken to pursue some of the older recommendations through the related outcomes-focused recommendations made in the Positive Futures series (which looked at Employment, Skills and Learning, Housing and Health and Wellbeing. These are clearly indicated in the Progress Report.

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 up to 1,800 individuals a year plus their families 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.
  • Susie Hamilton is the third Scottish Veterans Commissioner. Her predecessors being: Eric Fraser CBE, 2014-2018 and Charlie Wallace, 2018-2022. She took up her 3-year appointment in August 2022.
  • All 9 Commissioners’ reports to Ministers can be found HERE

Health and Wellbeing Stakeholder Insights – Armed Forces Personnel and Veterans Joint Health Group

Professor Jason Leitch is the National Clinical Director of the Scottish Government and chairs the Implementation Group of the Armed Forces Personnel and Veterans Joint Health Group, which includes representatives from a wide range of stakeholders, including the armed forces, veterans’ organisations and charities, NHS Scotland, NHS and Local Authority Armed Forces and Veterans Champions, and the Scottish Government.

A number of years ago I was approached to take on the role of the Scottish Government’s Armed Forces and veteran’s champion in the health directorate. I was delighted to do so. It’s been a fascinating few years as I’ve learned about the broad work underway and met with those affected by their service and the work going on across sectors to assist.

I now Chair the Implementation Group, part of the Armed Forces Personnel and Veterans Joint Health Group. The Joint Group, which is Chaired by the Chief Medical Officer, Gregor Smith, drives progress towards delivery of commitments relating to the health of the Armed Forces and veterans community here in Scotland.

We are a ‘committee’ which I think it’s fair to say has two uniquely non-committee functions; it’s fun and it gets stuff done. We’ve worked together across the NHS, the third sector, the Commissioner’s office and with those with lived experience on subjects as broad as access, hearing aids, employability, medical records and, of course, mental health. We’ve made progress but there is more to do. With the help of the Veteran’s Commissioner’s reports we have a clear set of priorities and we will endeavour to continue to push the rock up the hill.

Change is not straightforward. A mentor of mine taught me that ‘every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets’. If you want change, you have to change the system. Everyone I have met in this field is keen to do exactly that. The Scottish Government can convene and help but the real work happens in the frontline services.

The Scottish Government is fully committed to ensuring that all Armed Forces personnel who serve in Scotland, veterans who live in Scotland and their families are able to access the best possible care and support, including safe, effective and person-centred healthcare. It is through collaboration and connecting with the subject matter experts that we can achieve this.  We engage with colleagues on a 4 nation basis.  While the Armed Forces Covenant is reserved, the application of health is devolved, all of which adds to the complexity, it is also truly helpful in shaping learning. 

The Group’s broad membership harnesses a range of experts who work together on priority areas and recommendations driving progress towards our commitments of meeting the health needs of Armed Forces personnel and veterans in Scotland.   We are aware that many of the recommendations are interlinked and addressing some of the inequalities that veterans face sits at the heart of the Joint Group’s varied priorities.  I am hopeful for the future and I look forward to playing a small role in helping.

Health and Wellbeing Stakeholder Insights – Scottish Veterans Care Network

Dr Lucy Abraham is a consultant Clinical Psychologist and in 2020 she was appointed Clinical Lead for the Scottish Veterans Care Network (SVCN), a National Strategic Network which aims to deliver an integrated, person-centred care pathway across the health and social care system for Scotland’s veterans. Here, she shares the ethos behind SVCN’s approach.

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