Scottish Veterans Commisioner Charlie Wallace .
pic – Michael Boyd.

Charlie Wallace, Scotland’s Veterans Commissioner today published his third annual assessment of progress made against recommendations put forward by his office for improving services and support for veterans and their families living in Scotland.

His assessment found that despite the Pandemic, progress continues to be made on Veterans’ issues raised in a series of reports put forward by his office.  A key success is the recommended Veterans Mental Health Action Plan, which after extensive consultation, is about to be published and with it should come better mental health and wellbeing services, delivered in a way that best suits Veterans’ needs.

Overall, there has been greatest change around delivery of the Commissioner’s 2018 Health and Wellbeing recommendations:

– with a number of measures put in place to help identify and register Veterans accessing NHS care, giving health professionals the information they need to better understand and support Veterans

– work proceeding on ‘Veteran friendly’ GP practice accreditation, to promote and consolidate good practice amongst GPs

– further alignment of the Defence Medical Services and NHS IT systems, through Programme Cortisone, which will allow quicker electronic transfer of medical records

– improved support for Veterans who suffer chronic pain, through the Pain Association Scotland

– the launch of DAISy, the Drug and Alcohol Information Service, which will work to better understand the issues related to alcohol and drug harms, including where problematic use is causing damage to Veterans lives and those of their families

The Scottish Veterans Commissioner, Charlie Wallace, said:

“I am particularly pleased and hopeful to see the major step forward that the new Veterans’ Mental Health Action Plan and care pathway represents and the broader progress that has been made in health and wellbeing.

“Providing scrutiny and supportive challenge to policy makers and those delivering services to the Veterans’ community is an important part of my role, and assessing progress annually tells us whether current actions are effective in driving delivery and leading to positive change – but also crucially, where greater attention is needed.”

“Overall, the report tells a story of sustained effort across government and partner organisations, large and small, to address the issues highlighted in my reports and make long-term sustainable changes to policy and practice.  However, there remain some stubborn challenges here that government and its partners cannot afford to let up on now.”

Last year the Scottish Veterans Commissioner identified 20 recommendations in need of more attention to drive change and highlighted his concerns around employment and skills development and health and mental health services in particular.  These were areas where, among other things, the Commissioner felt the on-going Pandemic posed an increased risk to Service Leavers and Veterans, who often already face additional challenges when seeking civilian employment or health or mental health care services.

Charlie Wallace, continued:  “As the challenges of the Pandemic continue, we have seen more people suffer from increased anxiety, isolation and job losses, and services which are slower to respond to need.

“These are still areas where a strong focus and emphasis on support and early intervention needs to be maintained.  There is evidence of that in this year’s report, but going forward I want to see the strengthened strategic leadership we have seen in these areas continue and stronger partnership working, even when those partners do not always make easy bed-fellows.

“In the area of employment, skills and learning, there is evidence that high-level leadership and co-ordination through the Veterans Employability Strategic Group is starting to have a real impact.  The Group is working effectively, developing its long-term vision and action plan and bringing new strategic partners to the table.”

The Veterans Employability Strategic Group has initiated work aimed at:  maximising Service Leavers’ and their families’ access to impartial and on-going advice and guidance to support careers choices and access to training and up-skilling opportunities; better understanding the baseline employment situation for the Veterans community through better data; and identifying ways in which the NHS in Scotland can fully utilise the talents of the Veterans community to fill vacancies in the NHS, including in the new National Treatment Centres currently being created.”

Charlie Wallace, added:  “However, I now need to see further progress on issues I flagged previously.  These include:  the lack of recognition of Service Leavers’ and Veterans’ qualifications, skills and experience which prevents them competing for employment opportunities; efforts to better align Veterans’ skills and abilities with known skills gaps in key sectors of the Scottish economy and where there are labour shortages; and ensuring we get the levels of support right for Early Service Leavers, who can often be vulnerable to poor transition back into civilian society.”