Defence cuts leading to '˜more veterans with PTSD being left to sleep rough'

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Cuts to the armed forces' budget means opportunities to help serving personnel, especially those needing extra support, prepare for leaving the services are very limited, the shadow Scotland minister has said.

Cuts to the armed forces’ budget means opportunities to help serving personnel, especially those needing extra support, prepare for leaving the services are very limited, the shadow Scotland minister has said.

Paul Sweeney, whose remit includes Scottish defence issues, said defence cuts played a key factor in the number of veterans suffering issues in civilian life, with a number of those leaving ending up sleeping rough.

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Tonight the Ministry of Defence blamed “unfair tax hikes by the Scottish Government” which they said had hit recruitment and retention.

Colin MacLachlan of charity Who Dares Cares. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.Colin MacLachlan of charity Who Dares Cares. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
Colin MacLachlan of charity Who Dares Cares. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

Mr Sweeney said; “Defence spending is in crisis and has been cut drastically in the past five years.

“The number of soldiers has dropped from 103,000 to under 80,000 over the last three or four years as part of the Army 2020 review,” said Mr Sweeney, the Scottish Labour MP for Glasgow North East who is also an army reservist.

“This means we are experiencing a huge outflow of service personnel while at the same time not enough funding is being allocated to provide the high-quality support many of them require, especially if they have served in conflict zones.

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Revealed: Hidden toll of tragic veterans '˜falling through the cracks'

“There has been a pay cap for the last ten years meaning young soldiers can be earning less than the minimum wage for putting their lives on the line.

“This too can be a factor in them deciding to leave, with the risk they may end up on the streets.”

Mr Sweeney added that the way many veterans were being treated was contrary to the Military Covenant.

“The Military Covenant is meant to ensure those who serve, have served, and their families are treated fairly and not disadvantaged,” he said.

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Susie Hamilton, head of external relations at Scottish Veterans’ Residences (SVR), which provides high-quality supported accommodation in Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow for ex-service men and women of all ages, also said that lack of investment in the armed forces was contributing to the lack of preparation for service men and women leaving the armed forces.

“There’s very little compulsory resettlement,” she said.

“The process by which the Ministry of Defence transitions people has improved over the past few years, but it’s a very tricky balance.

“More could be done. There’s a will, but the armed forces are really stretched, and to have to factor that in too would be tricky.

“Perhaps it would be best to start the transitioning at basic training, right at the beginning and say ‘there are no council houses any more’, to focus the mind.”

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However, Ms Hamilton said that while the vast majority of veterans did not have problems, senior officers could often recognise which of their men and women would struggle to adjust to life outside the services.

“The armed forces do identify vulnerable service users,” she said.

“There might be disciplinary issues, alcohol issues or [they could] be in debt, with online gambling being a problem with some younger people.”

SVR, Scotland’s oldest ex-service charity, was founded in 1910 by two Seaforth Highlanders, Charles Pelham Burn and Chilton Lind Addison Smith who were appalled to see veterans of the day sleeping rough and living in squalor in Edinburgh.

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The first residence was at Whitefoord House on the Canongate on the Royal Mile. Its first residents were veterans of 19th century conflicts such as the Boer War, the Afghan Wars and the Crimean War.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “The UK government is investing £1.6 billion in Scotland as well as supporting over 10,000 industry jobs. Scotland is an important part of the national defence picture and we are investing £4 million to overcome unfair tax hikes by the Scottish Government which unfairly hit 8,000 troops and hit recruitment and retention.

“We are currently active on 25 operations in 30 countries around the world and have enough personnel to meet all our operational requirements.

“In the past year we have recruited over 13,000 people into a variety of posts and we have a range of initiatives to make sure we attract and keep the personnel we need.

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“We remain committed to ensuring we have the right skills at every level of the armed forces, so that our world-leading military can continue to face intensifying global threats.”

On Friday, Graeme Dey, MSP, the Scottish veterans minister, responds to the Johnston Press investigation which is calling on veteran suicides to be recorded and published annually.

Case Study: ‘Hundreds have taken their own lives’

Colin Maclachlan, a former member of the SAS, says he has lost count of the number of military veterans who have taken their own lives.

When asked for a rough number he replies “hundreds”. Hundreds over the past ten years.

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Mr Maclachlan and Calum MacLeod, a former King’s Own Scottish Borders’ veteran, set up the charity Who Dares Cares to help veterans and members of the emergency services struggling with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

They did this because they were continually talking to veterans or chatting on Facebook and social media to those who were reaching out to them, then discovering they had taken their lives.

Mr Maclachlan, 44, from South Queensferry near Edinburgh, joined the Royal Scots aged 15. He completed 18 years’ service, seven in the SAS.

“We would be talking to seven or eight a day – individuals and mutual friend, clubs and societies, and then finding out one had committed suicide.

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“There are too many veterans who have committed suicide for it not to be related to PTSD and veterans who’ve seen traumatic service.”

Mr Maclachlan said he felt suited to the SAS which he describes as being “about 80 per cent mental robustness and resilience and 20 per cent strength, how good a soldier you are and your social character”.

He was involved in major operations including a highjacking at Stansted airport in London and a jungle rescue in Sierra Leone.

But it was in 2004 inBasra that a harrowing incident occurred that affected him afterwards.

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“We were dropping intelligence officers off in Kuwait and on the way back our car broke down. We were taken away and put in a cell, stripped, handcuffed, badly beaten and put against a wall and subjected to mock executions.

“After it was all over there was no real decompression or debriefing.

“I cracked on with the rest of the guys. Some of the signs of PTSD such as being hyper-vigilant and not sleeping well were there but you just thought everyone was going through the same.”

He said it was after he left the SAS that his partner, Amanda, recognised what the issue was.

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“It sometimes takes an outsider to see something you think is normal. Again, I wasn’t sleeping well, I had to sit with my back to the wall facing exits, and didn’t want to be in crowds.”

He said many veterans face problems and that a large number are homeless.

“There is a solution to the homeless veteran problem. There are barracks lying empty as our army shrinks. They have beds and canteens. Surely any former soldier should go on a data base and get a bed and a meal?”

Mr Maclachlan who completed a history degree at the University of Edinburgh after leaving the services and now works as a motivational speaker, said: “These guys in the forces are putting their lives on the line. The government writes a cheque when we go to war, they should cash it in when we return and do something for veterans.”