When my local MP Hazel Blears asked me what I thought the government should do to better help veterans and those leaving the armed forces my first thought was education. Going to university was, for me, the best thing I could have done to help me cope with the things I had been through. Education opened my eyes to things I’d never heard of or thought about. It gave me focus, it gave me purpose and it gave me something to strive for. So if it worked for me, why couldn’t it work for other veterans?
The answer of course is money. We are not America, we can’t afford to pay for all of our veterans to go to university free of charge like our American counterparts do with the GI Bill. I believe that this should be a long-term goal for government, but this cannot be achieved overnight. So I decided to look at how to achieve practical change.
It was due to the help Hazel and her staff gave me, amongst other things, that I decided to join the Labour Party. I got in touch to help raise awareness of the issues veterans face when they leave the service. After hearing about my experiences, Hazel and I even arranged for a debate in Westminster Hall on the mental health of veterans. That was the tipping point for me, and I decided to become more actively involved with the party.
Carl von Clausewitz said, “War is a continuation of politics through other means”. Well I’d done the “other means” – going back and doing the first bit should be easy by comparison! So I joined up.
I began attending local branch and CLP meetings, learning the ropes, learning about the party; its history and policies, finding out about local government and how it works. Then it hit me. I knew what could easily be done to help veterans.
I realised that despite everything happening at national level with the covenant, there was next to nothing at local level for veterans. Not even a signposting service to the various forces charities such as the Royal British Legion. Many veterans are just left to fend for themselves. After the sacrifices they make to protect and defend our country, they deserve better. Much better.
The idea is simple. One of the major causes of the problems that we associate with veterans – homelessness, ending up in prison, violence, suicide, problems with drugs and alcohol and mental health issues, is failing to adjust to life outside the armed forces.
Most people join the military in their late teens and early twenties, the so-called formative years. They go through the training process, which is a master class in psychological programming. It has to be for us to do our jobs. A very dangerous, very difficult job. Then when it’s over, when the shooting stops, when we have served and “done our bit” for Queen and Country we are expected to go back to civvy street and get on with our lives and deprogram ourselves back into civilians on our own – really?
When you leave the forces you have to get a job, find somewhere to live and other things – in many cases whilst coping with the memories of traumatic experiences. Navigating government bureaucracy at all levels is a minefield and the people that veterans deal with often have no idea of what someone has gone through and no empathy towards veterans – how could they?
Many veterans feel frustrated, powerless and ignored. Which in turn sends them on the path that leads to the destructive habits and outcomes I mentioned earlier.
Enter a veteran’s champion. Because prevention is better than cure – many of the problems can be avoided very easily/ And having a veterans champion operating within local authorities can do just that.
This would be a senior position within the structure of councils – a one-stop shop for veterans. Someone who can integrate all the services so that instead of going to five different departments and five different people, a veteran would have one point of contact. Someone driven, autonomous, and with the clout. Someone to get things done.
Reporting directly to the leader or elected mayor, the veteran’s champion would not only work with other council departments on behalf of veterans, but also with forces charities at a local level, colleges, universities and employment agency’s to help make the adjustment back to civilian life a smooth one.
For it to work effectively, the veteran’s champion would have to be a veteran themselves. I can’t stress this point strongly enough. There is an instant connection between those who have served; a brotherhood. So a veteran doing the job can look in someone’s eye and say, “I know what you’re going through, I’ve been there mate”.
As for cost, you’re talking about one person’s salary. Salford council alone currently employs 11,000 people. One more isn’t going to break the bank. In fact, the benefits of a veteran’s champion far outweigh the relatively small cost. And it’s a perfect example of doing things better for less. And having one in every area means that there won’t be a postcode lottery for this service. For larger councils, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t create more than one position if the need is there.
So why should those on the left support such a thing? The military and showing support for it is the purview of the right – isn’t it? Lefties don’t associate themselves with the military or its values do they? Or some would have us believe.
I’m very proud to have served my country and I’d do it all again if asked. I have military values – a sense of duty, honour, respect, helping those in need and if anything the left has more in common with the military than the right. Take clause four for example, which says, “It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more than we achieve alone”.
No soldier goes into battle alone. During war many, many people come together toward a common goal. “But war is futile, we don’t want it” you say? No one wants peace more than the men and women who have to go out and fight our wars.
Clause four also says “The rights we enjoy reflect the duties owe”. Why do we enjoy the rights we do? Because of the men and women throughout our history that have put their lives on the line for us and the many who have made the ultimate sacrifice. We have a responsibility to live our lives with integrity and honesty, to honour that sacrifice. The best way to do that is to look after their comrades who do return to us. It is a duty we owe and our moral obligation.
And looking after and caring for people, is surely very much the purview of the left.