Veterans need specialist mental health services, says report

Care specialists with knowledge of the armed forces should be used to support armed forces veterans with mental health conditions.

That is the verdict of a Ministry of Defence-commissioned evaluation of a pilot project in six areas in which service users received complementary support from third-sector organisations with experience of working with ex-service personnel.

It is hoped such specialist support can combat high rates of alcoholism, drug abuse and homelessness among veterans.

Specialists from the University of Sheffield’s centre for psychological services research conducted the evaluation of the pilots, endorsing the use of staff who themselves were veterans, the badging of teams and buildings as being for veterans and the routine accessing of forces’ service records of new referrals.

The evaluation criticised assessment-only services which led to treatment in generic NHS settings and waiting lists for each stage of treatment.

It recommended that when service such as alcohol detox could not be provided for exclusive use by veterans, that they should be given priority over other service users to avoid delays.

Dr Kim Dent-Brown, one of the researchers on the study, said: “The services we studied were small and modestly funded, but staffed by highly dedicated, skilled and experienced staff who co-operated with our study while often single-handedly running their services. We hope their example can be a source of learning for similar services across the NHS.”

Andrew Robathan, minister for defence personnel, welfare and veterans, pledged the government’s support for effective services for ex-service personnel and said the report’s recommendations would be considered by the Ministry of Defence.

The six pilot studies were in Staffordshire, Camden and Islington, Tees, Esk and Wear Valley, Cardiff, Cornwall and Edinburgh. The report used data from clients, audits and annual reports.

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