Families of ex-Service personnel need to be consistently identified, recognised, and supported, according to new research published by Queen’s University Belfast and King’s Centre for Military Health Research at King’s College London, funded by Forces in Mind Trust.

Partners and children of ex-Service personnel may be impacted by the nature of Service life, including as a result of frequent moves and due to family separation. However this is not always as well recognised as the impact on the serving person or veteran by policy makers or those delivering services to the Armed Forces community.

The majority of veteran families who participated in this study reported positive health and wellbeing outcomes.  However, the report identified that some families would benefit from additional support, including families of those ex-Service personnel who have been rapidly discharged from Service for a medical or disciplinary reason. These families were more often negatively affected during their transition from military life, due to the lack of time to plan and prepare for civilian life.

A minority of families of ex-Service personnel also reported experiencing financial worries during transition – reporting that the military can leave Service personnel and families unprepared for the financial pressures of civilian life. Given significant living costs, such as accommodation, can be taken before Service personnel are paid, this can mask the real cost of living for many families. However, most veteran families described themselves as either “doing well” or “getting by”.

The research found that there was a strong sense of belonging amongst families of ex-Service personnel in relation to the Armed Forces Community. Families recognised the importance of a support network of people who have shared similar experiences and valued the community’s continued existence into post-Service life. The researchers published their findings after surveying over 700 partners and adult children of ex-Service personnel, as well as conducting in-depth interviews with 71 members of families of ex-Service personnel.

Recommendations

To address the issues faced by families of ex-Service personnel the report made a number of recommendations including:

  • Consistent definitions of family members within and across public services including the NHS
  • Development of alternative ways of identifying and connecting willing families into services
  • Improving financial literacy of Armed Forces Families, whilst Serving in the Armed Forces

Professor Chérie Amour Professor of Psychological Trauma & Mental Health from the School of Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast said: “A review of the existing research literature shows that partners and children of veterans are often forgotten when trying to understand how being part of the UK Armed Forces may benefit or hinder wellbeing.

“We know that families are an integral part of the Armed Forces Community and so were delighted to be commissioned by the Forces in Mind Trust to conduct a two-year programme of research focused directly on the health and wellbeing needs of veteran families in the UK. This research is the largest study on the families of UK veterans conducted to date. Along with important findings on health and wellbeing, including the strengths of veteran families, we have made key recommendations for research, policy, and practice.

“These include greater identification of veteran families where possible, and greater specificity in policies relating to the wellbeing of veteran families, which focus on a range of issues including improving financial literacy and optimising support services .We believe that support provided to the UK Armed Forces community must regard families and their needs as being equal to that of veterans and Serving personnel and worthy of support in their own right.”

Prof. Nicola Fear, Professor of Epidemiology from the Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Neuroscience, King’s College London added: “It was a privilege to co-lead this ambitious study alongside colleagues at Queens University Belfast. The UK Veterans Family Study brings together quantitative and qualitative data on veteran families from all four nations of the UK, to improve our understanding of their needs and to make recommendations for policy, practice and future research.

“We hope that the results of work will lead to improvements in how family members are supported. Research recognises the impacts that serving in the Armed Forces can have on personnel during and post-service, the UK Veterans Family Study highlights the impact of service and transition on family members. This work makes a number of recommendations which if implemented will lead to improvements in how family members are supported.”

Michelle Alston, Chief Executive of Forces in Mind Trust, said: “We know that the challenges and opportunities of military life do not affect the serving person alone and that the family provides a significant, but an often unrecognised, contribution to Defence. However, the needs of the family members can be overlooked, which is why this research – the first UK wide study on the health and wellbeing of veterans’ families – provides welcome evidence and understanding of some of the unique issues they may face.

“This research highlights that family members are individuals separate from the former Service person and the importance of their own needs being considered separately, not only as a support for the veteran. By recognising the need for their individual support, and better understanding the key risk factors and any barriers to accessing services, we can better support the more vulnerable families.

“We urge the Ministry of Defence to recognise the need to provide clearer information and support for families on health and wellbeing within the Armed Forces Families Strategy, to not only support families during their service but also to enable a successful transition into a fulfilling civilian life.”

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