A report released by Ulster University has revealed that a high proportion of veterans in Northern Ireland approve of a dedicated Veterans’ Centre, whereas service providers largely do not support the establishment of such a centre…

The report, funded by the Forces in Mind Trust, is the third in a series of reports from the Northern Ireland Veteran’s Health and Wellbeing Study. The aim of this research was to gain insight into the perspectives of veterans and service providers in Northern Ireland regarding the potential need for a dedicated Veterans’ Centre in the region.

The findings come from 13 focus groups conducted with military veterans, 20 individual interviews conducted with service providers who support veterans in the region, and early responses from the ongoing Northern Ireland Veterans’ Health and Wellbeing Survey.

Findings revealed that:

  • 66% of veterans who completed the survey would ‘definitely’ support a centre and a further 13% would ‘probably’ support it
  • The main reasons for using the Centre were mental health support (65% of veterans would use it for this reason), social activities (64%) and education and training (62%)
  • Veterans in the focus groups talked about the need for a ‘safe space’ and a ‘one-stop shop’ for support and services
  • Service providers expressed that although a ‘one-stop shop’ could be beneficial, it did not have to take the form of a physical building
  • Service providers also noted that as some of these services were already available in the community, there could be a risk of duplication

Both veterans and service providers expressed some security concerns around a dedicated Veterans’ Centre. Some felt that the Centre would be seen as a physical target.

Other potential difficulties were highlighted by service providers, including the creation of dependence and a lack of self-help, and concerns over funding for the Centre.

Both service providers and veterans agreed it might be difficult to identify an appropriate location which is accessible by public transport. Both also agreed that a Veterans’ Centre should be centrally located, or alternatively there should be several satellite hubs.

Despite the potential disadvantages of having a dedicated Veterans’ Centre in Northern Ireland, the vast majority of veterans supported the idea and the researchers from Ulster University have recommended setting up an exploratory committee to discuss the practicalities of such a centre in Northern Ireland.

The report outlines that policy decisions that are based on credible evidence are invaluable. This report concludes that there is sufficient evidence to warrant investigating further, but that there is insufficient evidence to press ahead immediately with a campaign to secure funding.

Professor Cherie Armour, Associate Dean of Research and Impact and Director of the Institute of Mental Health Sciences, Ulster University, said: “We are now seeing a common theme through our reports that veterans themselves are highlighting that they need more support, and that this is mirrored by public opinion.

“Although veterans and service providers may disagree on the establishment of a dedicated Veterans’ Centre there is widespread agreement on the need for more support services, in particular mental health and wellbeing support.

“Our recommendation to set up an exploratory committee comprising of both veterans and support providers would help to open up productive discussion on how to best address existing issues with services and to discuss the practicalities and feasibility of a veterans’ centre.”

Ray Lock, Chief Executive of Forces in Mind Trust, said: “Having a dedicated Veterans’ Centre might offer a central place for ex-Service personnel to meet and access help, but there are downsides – for example it could encourage ex-Service personnel to remain within the bubble of the Armed Forces world and not fully transition into civilian life.

“This sensible report by Ulster University takes a measured approach, and we support further work within Northern Ireland to identify the full range of issues. Policy and service provision decisions need to be based on the best evidence available, and it is clear that more understanding is needed.”

You can read the full report here.