Ex-military personnel who are recovering from alcohol and drug addiction are more likely to succeed in recovery through veteran specific services, new research has revealed.

The research, carried out by Sheffield Hallam University’s Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice on behalf of the charity Addaction, and funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), looked at the work of the Right Turn project, which has been developed to support veterans who are recovering from addiction and helping them reintegrate in to civilian life.

Each year roughly 15,000 people leave the UK Armed Forces and the vast majority make a successful transition into civilian society. But an increasing number of ex-forces personnel are experiencing poor mental health, substance misuse and contact with the criminal justice sector. Poor transition is estimated to have cost the UK £98million in 2015 alone.

Addaction’s Right Turn initiative, the first of its kind in the UK when launched, is a pioneering project operating on the premise that the comradeship underpinning military life can be re-directed to support recovery from addiction and desistance from crime. Following the pilot stage, funding from FiMT and Heineken helped support the expansion of the Right Turn to 20 sites across the UK.

The veteran-specific services including a network of peer support groups led by volunteers (Vet Recovery Champions), provide a safe place where veterans can meet, share their experiences and support each other to achieve recovery.

The research carried out by Sheffield Hallam University looked at the impact of Right Turn and its effectiveness in supporting and assisting veterans to integrate more successfully back into civilian life.

The results established a number of positive outcomes for the veterans, with the primary finding showing that ex-military service personnel are most likely to engage positively to treatment and support services offered by others with experience of military life.

Further findings included:

Of those with a history of contact with the criminal justice system, all reported no further criminal justice contact since joining the project

Of the 39% of veterans in active addiction when joining the project, all gained addiction recovery status

65% of the veterans have undertaken further education and training opportunities and are now engaged in voluntary work or paid employment

78% of the veterans reported significant improvements in their relationships with family members since joining the project

65% of veterans reported an increased sense of security and confidence in their management of practical, day-to-day matters, e.g. accommodation and finances

86% reported an improved sense of purpose and direction in life, alongside feeling more confident about achieving their life goals

Dan Jarvis, MP for Barnsley Central and former army officer, has given his backing to the project and spoke at the launch of the research.

He said: “This is incredibly important research. I know from my time in the Armed Forces the sense of comradeship and mutual respect which exists between those who serve. I also know that for some the transition to civilian life can be difficult and far too many veterans struggle with poor mental health and substance misuse.

“The success of Right Turn demonstrates there is an important role for peer support in helping veterans’ recovery.

"I hope that policy makers in both national and local government take note of this research and work to expand access to veteran-specific services, recognising the significant benefits it has brought to veterans struggling with the transition to civilian life.”

Dr Katherine Albertson, who led the research for Sheffield Hallam’s HKC, said: "Without exception, all of the veteran participants reported enjoying their time in the military. They talked of a sense of achievement, unique experiences, learning to embrace different structures and expectations of the military identity.

"The Right Turn project operates on the assertion that the comradeship and mutual resilience underpinning military life can be redirected to support recovery and desistance journeys through peer support which enables engagement in community and social activities."

Jon Murray, Associate Director at Addaction, said: "Right Turn was launched by ex-service staff at Addaction who understood that the experiences of people who served in the Army, Navy or Air Force could be both an asset and a barrier to recovery. It was conceived by veterans for veterans, and that’s how it still works today.

"As this important report shows, it’s having a profound impact. We’re proud of the results shown here, and pleased to have such clear evidence that the Right Turn approach should be expanded further. Behind these findings are individual people’s lives, each with hopes and aspirations for the future. We’re delighted that Right Turn is helping to make them a reality.”

Air Vice-Marshal Ray Lock, Chief Executive of the Forces in Mind Trust, said: “Following service in the Armed Forces, a small but measurable number of people struggle to transition into civilian life and can turn to addiction when trying to cope with these pressures. It can be very difficult for such vulnerable people to have the confidence to speak up and ask for help. In some cases they may not even be aware that such help is available, which of course is why we very much welcome the launch of the Veterans Gateway earlier this week, at least in part as a response to one of our earlier research projects.

“This independent evaluation of Addaction’s Right Turn programme provides an evidence base that demonstrates the significant impact that it has made in helping vulnerable ex-Service personnel make steps towards leading fulfilling civilian lives.

"We are naturally pleased that the project has been shown to have had a positive impact on those using the Right Turn services, but in truth the hard work starts now. How can we secure the sustainable delivery of veteran-specific programmes such as Right Turn? I hope all service providers and policy makers will read the report and consider how they can work towards positive change in this area.”