Defence Minister supports war veteran on hunger strike in Shropshire
Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood says more must be done to support retired servicemen as a Falklands veteran continues a hunger strike in Shropshire.
Today ex-paratrooper Gus Hales will have been protesting for 11 days over the over failings in care for ex-members of the armed forces.
The veterans' charity Combat Stress has apologised for the way he was discharged from its care in 2015, and says it will now work with the government to find any other veterans who feel they have been improperly discharged from its care.
But despite the apology, Mr Hales, who served as a Royal Engineer Paratrooper in the Falklands conflict in the 1980s, has said he will continue his protest outside the Combat Stress premises, in Audley Court, Newport, until he sees ‘concrete’ action to address concerns over the treatment of veterans.
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Now Mr Ellwood, who has held discussions with the veteran over the issues being faced by former military personnel, has insisted said the government is "committed to continuing the support available".
He said: "It is troubling to read of Falklands veteran Gus Hales on hunger strike over support to our veterans. Every effort is being made by Combat Stress, NHS England and the MoD to resolve Mr Hales' concerns.
"His story shows we must continue to advance and get better at communicating our support for veterans. There is more work to do and we are committed to continuing the support available," the Minister for Defence People and Veterans stated.
Mr Hales has now revealed that he recently held telephone talks with the minster and the former head of the armed forces General Sir Peter Wall.
He said: "It was constructive conversation and very parliamentary. I feel that there needs to be a full independent inquiry between Combat Stress and the authorities and that is why I am sitting here in the pouring rain on hunger strike because I am not seeing anything of that.
"I have been here for 10 days and I am extremely flat and empty. I am totally whacked."
"My MP Chris Davies, for Brecon and Radnorshire, came to see me yesterday, but Leona Roberts from the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands got on a plane from half way round the world and managed to get here a day before him."
Mr Davies said he had arranged meetings between Mr Hales and Mr Ellwood and that he was in contact with the Prime Minister’s office in an attempt to bring the case to a swift conclusion.
He said: "I met with Gus yesterday and had a long discussion with him before visiting the Combat Stress office where he is holding his hunger strike. Gus is resolute in his opinion, but I am worried about his health and I will be speaking with Tobias Elwood again on Gus’s behalf.
"It is vital that the country does not just talk about supporting veterans, but actually does it."
In a lengthy statement earlier this week Combat Stress accepted it had let Mr Hales down.
A spokesman said: "Mr Hales has raised two very important issues. Regarding the issue of his own discharge from our services, we have unreservedly apologised for the manner in which he was discharged in 2015.
"We are extremely concerned about Mr Hales’ health due to the current situation and our clinical team is standing by, ready to offer Mr Hales any personal assistance he wishes.
“As a result of Mr Hales' discharge, we will undertake a review to identify if any other veterans have been improperly discharged from Combat Stress.
"We have asked the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Health and partner military charities to participate and to identify anyone they know who feels they have been discharged improperly. Once we have this information, we will discuss with them how to meet their needs for any further support."
The charity has also said it supports Mr Hales' call for more government resources to support veterans.
The spokesman said: “On the second issue of the plight of veterans with mental health problems, we acknowledge and admire the highly visible way Mr Hales has sought to draw attention to this issue.
"Over the last decade the number of former servicemen and women seeking help from Combat Stress for the first time has doubled to more than 2,000 each year. We no longer receive substantial income from NHS England following the redistribution of their funding to a new Veterans’ Mental Health Complex Treatment Service, which is still settling down.
“We fully support the points about the need for more resources to offer better coordinated and funded support to the significant number of veterans who have risked everything in service for their country and our safety.”
Mark Pritchard MP: Having lost friend to suicide I will always fight for veterans
In an open letter, Wrekin MP Mark Pritchard reveals his first-hand experience of the trauma suffered by veterans, and speaks of his commitment to ensuring members of the armed services get the help they need.
"Mental health support for veterans is a top priority of mine.
Having lost an ex-serviceman friend to suicide in the 1990s, I know first hand the extent to which mental health trauma can blight the lives of ex-servicemen and women, and the families and friends that support them.
Post-traumatic stress and post-traumatic stress disorders are certainly evident in some veterans with some disorders, taking months or years to manifest themselves.
They can be minor or major, but both have an impact on veterans’ lives.
Locally, Combat Stress and other mental health charities do a great job in supporting our veterans.
The charity’s work has helped thousands of ex-servicemen and women over many years.
The charity also provides valuable respite care for families.
The government is committed to helping the mental welfare of ex-service personnel, as well as others all in the community.
In recent months and weeks, the government has announced:
- An increase in mental health spending to a planned £11.86 billion in 2017/18.
- An additional spend of £1 billion by 2020/21 to support a new national strategy.
- Increasing talking therapy completions by 600,000 per year.
- A review of the Mental Health Act by Prof. Sir Simon Wessely.
- £10 million for mental health care to veterans, to mark the centenary of the Armistice.
- A minimum of £2 billion per year extra for mental health services.
- New mental health crisis centres, providing support to every A&E in England.
- More mental health ambulances, and a 24-hour mental health crisis hotline.
- An extra £20.5 billion for the NHS over the next five years. Including a record £312M investment in Telford and Wrekin and Shropshire.
The Veterans Trauma Network also aims to provide a safety net for trauma-recovering veterans and service personnel, to ensure their lifelong healthcare needs are met.
The government has enshrined into law the Armed Forces Covenant, which is an iron-clad commitment to ensure all ex-service personnel, as well as their families, are treated according to their needs.
Veterans can apply for this help through multiple local providers.
Having met with serving armed forces personnel on the ground, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the UK, I can testify first hand to their dedication to duty and the very many pressures they can face when leaving our armed forces.
Veterans’ mental health remains a personal and political priority for me. All of us can do our bit to help."