War veterans fighting the battle for good mental healthBy Karen Jordan
November 13, 2012
War veterans in Reading struggling with mental health issues will soon be able to get more help thanks to a new NHS-funded clinic in the town.
The strategic health authority is to invest £150,000-a-year into services aimed at veterans who have developed mental health problems as a result of active service.
Starting in January, Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (BHFT) will run a service from its mental health clinic in Erleigh Road, and aims to assess more than 2,000 ex-service personnel from the town and treat almost 240.
More than 27 per cent of veterans have a mental disorder, with almost five per cent suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which can lead to addiction, homelessness or trouble with the police.
John Hedger, chair of BHFT, said: “The NHS is responsible for the health needs of all veterans after they finish their military service.
“Most go on to lead healthy lives, but some will develop mental health conditions. For these veterans, assessment and support has, so far, been uneven. Many cases are not diagnosed for eight to 12 years after active service. We want to encourage veterans to seek help.
“Their assessment and support and appropriate treatment will be a priority for the NHS.”
The new South Central Veterans’ Mental Health Service (SCVS) will also coordinate help to meet social care needs “likely to affect successful treatment”.
Consultant clinical psychologist Dr Deborah Lee said: “We want to make it easier for veterans to get the services they need.
“Ex-military personnel might prefer to ‘suffer in silence’ rather than admit they need help. We want to break down that stigma and ensure that everything that can be done for them will be done.
“Veterans who require treatment for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety will be able to rebuild their lives. We shall offer an outreach service which provides both practical and clinical support.”
A study has shown that young men leaving the British Armed Forces are up to three times more likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts.
Reading Army veteran Nick Rose, 50, served in the Parachute Regiment for eight years, completing tours in Northern Ireland and the Falklands.
He left the Army in 1987, but his mental health issues took some 15 years to develop and were triggered again with 30th anniversary of the Falklands War this year.
Now a client of the veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress, the former Paratrooper who lives in Calcot, said: “The 30th anniversary of the Falklands War triggered difficult memories for me along with phone calls from pals.
“One threatened suicide, but this wasn’t surprising when you consider that more people have committed suicide because of the Falklands War than who died in it. In fact, 13 of my friends have committed suicide.”
On the new mental health service for veterans, he said: “It will really help as veterans need to be able to talk to others who have been in the same situation.
“But the most important thing will be to raise awareness about this service because there’s no point having it if no-one knows about it.
“This is why I am talking to getreading today.”
The SCVS will work with organisations such as the police, military charities and councils to help them identify veterans with mental health problems.
Lt Col Peter Poole, director of Combat Stress, said: “We welcome this new service as it will offer more opportunities for veterans to get access to the health services they need – both mental and physical.”