A fellow called Jonathan Foreman from the think tank Civitas published an opinion piece in yesterday's Sunday Times suggesting that we don't in this country look after our veterans as well as they do in the United States. In fact he makes some very good points, most of which have resonance and which deserve to be at least debated.
The general after care for veterans is fast improving in the UK but it remains too easy for cases to slip through whatever nets exist and often, it is the individual ex serviceman's personal pride that stops him from asking for help in the first place meaning that help is only called for when the situation becomes acute. Calling for help is also an increasingly tough call for many in old or middle age who believe they don't qualify for help, "because I didn't do Afghan or anything." No, mate, you just did four tours walking backwards for four and a half months at a time in West Belfast. Actually, anyone who wears a uniform for a day qualifies, they're all members of the same club. Help for Heroes don't particularly help in this regard given they don't help servicemen injured prior to 2001. The sixty year old with the screaming heebie-jeebies in the dark recesses of his mind who can't control his bodily functions in the middle of the night doesn't exactly fit the photo shop chirpy limbless square jawed twenty year old tabbing to the Arctic that the marketing dollies are so fond of.
There are other never before seen issues now cropping up relating to too much money too fast for some grievously injured but that's a subject for another time.
Jonathon Foreman though makes a good point about post service education and alludes to the US system where, under the GI Bill, (the Montgomery amendment in fact), US veterans qualify for assistance with further education.
Oddly, and I wrote about here , I went to see Bob Ainsworth when he was Minister of State for the Armed Forces and put just that proposal to him. "Honest Bob" as he was known by insiders, was good enough to see me and opened the meeting with, "right, I've just had the Admiral of the Fleet in here arguing for more ships, what can I do for you?" He was decent enough to give me a hearing which I would summarise thus,
- work with homeless ex servicemen had convinced me that help with transition was no better than it was when I left the Army years previously. The best way to alleviate homelessness was prevention rather than cure.
- assistance with further education, (after say a minimum six years service), would help both recruitment and retention and could be employed both for the regular Army and the Reserves. This is all the more pertinent now given problems with reserve recruitment and could be amended further to offer discounted university fees while in reserve service. Incidentally, for the avoidance of doubt, what we're talking here is a no holds 100% discount on a three year university course or, full fee discount on vocational or apprenticeship courses or programmes. There is no "get out clause," for HMG. If people do the time they get the reward.
- much is written and discussed about the increasing lack of social mobility in our society. For generations, one way to climb the first four rungs of the ladder for young people from poor rural and inner city areas has been to enlist. For many they are simply not mature enough, nor do they have the basic minimum requirements for further education, at 16-18 and so indeed. enlist. After five or more years service however, they tend to be completely different people. Why should they be denied the opportunity to improve themselves and exactly who's politics would stand in the way of this kind of progress?
All sound stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. So what happened? Well, Mr Ainsworth included the topic in a discussion paper which was to encompass all benefits for veterans and even dispatched some civil servants to the US to look at their programmes. In fact, that paper, and the education proposal, even made it into the Labour governments pre election proposal for the Forces Charter as a statutory right, "our version of the GI Bill."
So what went wrong? We had an election, Labour blew it, which I was admittedly reasonably happy with at the time, but some good things went down with the ship including this little education proposal. Whatever else, I'll always tip my hat to Mr Ainsworth who kindly took the time to listen to a citizen who virtually wandered in off the street with an idea, and similarly hope that Mr Foreman continues to bang the drum.
It ticks a lot of boxes and just think of all those proud Mum's out there Mr Hammond; just do the right thing.