Military veterans are struggling to adapt to civilian life, a charity has warned, as former service personnel criticised the Ministry of Defence’s “tick-box” support.
Many working-age service leavers feel “undervalued by society and misunderstood by civilians” with the resettlement process failing to address their lost sense of belonging, the study by Ssafa, the Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Families Association, found..
The charity surveyed over 1,100 former service personnel between the ages of 18 and 49, for a new report titled The Nation’s Duty: Challenging society’s disservice to a new generation of veterans.
Over three quarters of those polled (77 per cent) – all of whom had sought help from the charity – said they felt they were not fully prepared for civilian life with 19 per cent saying the resettlement package failed to provide them with suitable skills or qualifications to find a job.
Sir Andrew Gregory, SSAFA’s Chief Executive, said: “Support for the Armed Forces means more than just supporting them during active duty, it means creating a welcoming environment for them to re-enter when their time is served.”
The report comes in the wake of comments by the outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Stuart Peach, who said wider society has too simplistic a view of those that had served their country.
“The absolute majority of people who served in the Armed Forces return to fulfilling lives enriched by the experience. We are not all heroes and we are not all broken by service,” he said in his valedictory speech earlier this month.
Gemma Morgan, an army veteran, told the Telegraph: “The military puts huge effort into creating a separate society, a separate fighting force, for good operational reasons,” she added, “but sometimes the real world can be more complicated and there is often a reverse culture-shock and loss of that sense of belonging once someone leaves”.
She blames the “tick-box exercise” of resettlement for not properly allowing veterans to create a new sense of purpose after their service. Instead of just writing CVs, those leaving military service “need the space to decompress away from the team to ask ‘who the hell am I?’” says Ms Morgan.
The infrastructure is there so it’s just the content that needs to changeArmy veteran Gemma Morgan
“If you still see yourself as a soldier after you’ve left, you’ll never transition.”
“The infrastructure is there so it’s just the content that needs to change. This can be a quick win and we need to start doing it properly for the sake of the veterans.”
Speaking exclusively to the Telegraph, Mark McDonald, a veteran of 23 years service, revealed how he needed help transitioning back into civilian life having been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2005. “Once you leave the gates you’re on your own unless you ask for help,” he said, “and pride can be a problem sometimes.”
“My pride got in the way of me asking for a mobility scooter, but my wife talked me into it. Now I can do the shopping or go with my son to watch his football matches.”
He was shocked and angry to be told that as a former soldier his local authority wanted to do extra checks as part of his application to foster his son, in case he had been “institutionalised”.
“Did they think I’d have my child marching up and down outside the house?” he asked. “Would they do this with a former policeman or ambulance driver?”
Ssafa helped Mr McDonald with his financial planning after being medically discharged in 2013. He feels service leavers should receive such help as standard on resettlement courses.
“In the military all your bills for food, accommodation and tax come out of your pay before you get it. It sounds basic but if you don’t know how to organise yourself with money you can easily end up thousands of pounds in debt.”
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