In July this year, Anglia Ruskin University’s Veterans and Families Institute (VFI) was commissioned by Forces in Mind Trust to work with the RFEA: The Forces Employment Charity, Walking with the Wounded (WWTW) and Norfolk and Suffolk Police Force to evaluate Project NOVA

A registered military charity with a 128 year history, the RFEA has been working with Veterans in the Criminal Justice System for the past threeyears. The RFEA designed the delivery model for Project Nova in conjunction with Walking With the Wounded. Both charities will jointly deliver the 18-month trial which provides advice, guidance and support to Veterans using the ‘Nova network’ of military charities and organisations in Norfolk and Suffolk since January this year.

The RFEA provides support to Veterans across the Criminal Justice System. Its expertise lies in understanding the Veteran and the impact and unique nature of military service. Its position within the military charity community also enables it to be a powerful broker and linker to other charities which may be more appropriate for a client’s need – e.g. housing, life-skills, mental health and funded training.

The VFI launched by General the Lord Dannatt, together with Patron, Simon Weston OBE and Ambassador, Phil Packer MBE, was founded to carry out research, evaluation and audit activities on the mental health, social care, employment and wellbeing of military Veterans and their families and to inform and influence policy making in East Anglia, nationally and internationally.

The Institute’s Directors, Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes and Matt Fossey, both have an established track record in this specialist field of study. Anglia Ruskin University also offers an MSc in Military Veteran and Families Studies, the first postgraduate qualification of this kind to be offered in the UK. The VFI is currently working to establish a centralised national research hub and network for all UK research and research workers and institutions working in this specialised field.

In the UK, very little is known about the characteristics of Veteran offenders. Official Government statistics estimate that around 3.5% of the prison population in England and Wales are Veterans. This trial gives us the opportunity to underpin the project with an academic evaluation to measure effectiveness and successful outcomes.

Demographic and biographical data will be collected on all Veterans who enter the trial and then we will be looking at a large range of outcome measures including measures of mental health, wellbeing, alcohol use and others but, importantly, examining the impact of the programme on employment status, custody, offending and arrest rates and other indicators.

As well as evaluating the effectiveness of diversion for veterans who are arrested, the involvement of the Anglia Ruskin VFI in Project NOVA will help us to understand more about the health and wellbeing of those Veterans involved in the trial, as well as the opportunity of collecting valuable data about their military histories.

It is a privilege for Anglia Ruskin University and the Veterans and Families Institute to be responsible for the academic evaluation of this really innovative regional project and we hope that if Project NOVA is found to be as successful as everybody hopes that it will be, then this could open the door to the possibility of similar schemes being rolled out to intervene with Veterans in similar circumstances all over the country.

Case studies (names have been changed to protect identities)

Ex-Serviceman Tony was homeless and drinking too much. He had been arrested three times in three months and was sentenced to six months imprisonment for assaulting a Police Officer. Colin one of RFEA’s Specialist Employment Consultants met Tony before he went into custody and visited him when he was in prison.

Tony was understandably extremely concerned that, when he left prison with £47 in his pocket, he would fall back into the habits which had led to his incarceration in the first place. Colin set about finding accommodation for Tony and found a flat run by a Veterans’ housing charity in the North East with financial support from Forward Assist.

The Royal British Legion (TRBL) provided a grant for clothing and personal effects grant as Tony did not have any clothing to his name, TRBL also provided funds for essential furniture. Tony was visited again in prison by Colin who worked with the Prison Veterans in custody team and the Resettlement and Housing teams to ensure Tony’s new flat was approved.

Upon release Forward Assist met Tony at the station when he arrived in the North East, they helped him settle in and provided food essentials to get him started.

Since that first night Tony has attended Forward Assist support group meetings on a regular basis and his passion for art has been reignited, recently exhibiting his works at a Forward Assist art display. Tony commented: “I was at rock-bottom; I couldn’t see any kind of future and had found it really hard since I left the Armed Forces.

"The encouragement and support from Colin kept me going; even now I can pick up the phone to him and give him a bit of banter! To know there are people out there willing to give me a chance, even if I have really messed up, really helps. I was never judged for the situation I had got myself in.”

Having battled with alcoholism for many years it shows such determination that since his release, Tony has not consumed alcohol and now chairs his local AA group. Tony is currently waiting for the results of a job interview and has taken up fishing.

Karl was having self-esteem problems since leaving the Armed Forces. Karl had several things causing him angst in his life, namely gambling debts, anger management and lack of self-esteem post military life.

Karl was referred to Colin by a Police Investigation centre of Norfolk & Suffolk Police after being arrested for harassment of his ex-partner. This was his second arrest for the same offence.

Colin took Karl through a ‘Needs Analysis’; Karl’s gambling debts had caused him to miss insurance, car and vehicle license payments. Colin subsequently arranged for the Money, Welfare and Debt service from The Royal British Legion (TRBL) and a civilian debt charity to meet with Karl. They in turn approached his creditors to arrange a financially mutual repayment scheme for him, alleviating that pressure.

Because of everything he was dealing with, Karl also had developed mental health issues. Colin suggested that he register with the Big White Wall, an online mental health forum, which is specifically aimed at Veterans and their dependants. Karl found this extremely helpful because he could remain completely anonymous and log in from his smartphone.

Colin also arranged for Karl and his mother to attend the Combat Stress outreach meeting near to his local town, both Karl and his Mother found this to be extremely beneficial and continue to attend the monthly meetings.

As Karl began to recognise that he had a mental health issue he approached his GP who put the appropriate support in place for Karl. With the support of his GP he was able to approach Walking With the Wounded (WWTW) to apply for financial support so that he could resume employment. WWTW’s grant enabled Karl to get back on his feet, gain a Vehicle Excise Licence, pay his first months insurance premium; all of this meant his former employer was willing to give him another chance.

On Karl’s behalf, Colin kept the Magistrates Court, Probation and Defence solicitors up to date with his progress and recently prepared a letter for the court in time for Karl’s sentencing.

Karl said: “Admitting I had mental health problems was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I couldn’t understand why I was reacting the way I was and thought no one would give me the time of day. I was so wrong! Colin has been amazing, Big White Wall gave me the courage to approach my GP and I’m rebuilding my relationship with my mum. Even if I go to prison, I know that there are people out there willing to give me a chance.”

The RFEA helps Service Leavers and Veterans of all ranks, trades and services into employment when leaving the Armed Forces and also at any stage thereafter throughout their working lives. RFEA sources job opportunities for any rank, trade and background, including Reservists, the Wounded and Dependants.

For more information about Project Nova, contact:

The Forces in Mind