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New veterans’ mental health service launched by NHS

New veterans’ mental health service launched by NHS

NEWS

21 Apr, 2021

Veterans suffering a mental health crisis will receive specialist care as part of the new Op Courage service, a collaborative project between NHS England and the Office for Veterans Affairs. Claire Withey, an associate solicitor in the military claims team at Bolt Burdon Kemp, reports

The new mental health service, launched in March by NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens, is a very positive step in ensuring that those who suffer from mental health problems following their military careers get the treatment they need and deserve. 

Under the scheme, doctors, nurses and other NHS staff will work with military charities to provide rehab, therapy and in extreme cases inpatient care to hundreds of former soldiers, sailors and RAF personnel. This will be an invaluable partnership as NHS staff can provide the expertise in treating a variety of mental health conditions, and military charities, many of which are headed by ex-military personnel, can provide a real insight into the challenges of a career in the Armed Forces. 

It is also intended that treatment will be available far more quickly than has been the case in the past, with those needing urgent help receiving a same-day referral. The scheme brings together a number of specialist services for veterans, meaning that they receive the very best in treatment. It also aims to help integrate veterans with mental health problems back into civilian life, making transition an easier and more positive experience.

Sir Simon Stevens has said of the initiative: ‘We owe a special debt of gratitude to those who risk all for their country and the NHS is determined to do its part in honouring that.’

Why is this so important for veterans?

It is a sad but well-known reality that many of those finishing their careers in the Armed Forces will have developed mental health problems as a consequence of some of the experiences they have had during their service. These conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can often go undiagnosed and untreated, and when those individuals leave the Forces they often don’t know where to turn for treatment. At Bolt Burdon Kemp, we act for a number of individuals who have suffered mental health problems as a result of military service, and know first-hand the struggles they can face in the absence of any proper treatment. 

There are around 2.4 million veterans living in the UK, and around 1 in 20 will suffer from PTSD. A smaller number will have severe and complex mental health needs. The new Op Courage initiative means that those veterans who need treatment will know where to turn. It will also relieve pressure on many of the military charities that have carried the burden of trying to help those with mental health problems, and will mean that the right treatment is available far sooner than would have previously been the case. 

It is also a very welcome step after a year of living with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has placed additional strain on the limited mental health care services available to those who need them, and has been a time during which many military charities have struggled.

The service is expected to treat around 5,000 people a year and will focus on those who are in crisis, at risk of self-harm or suicide, and those suffering from other problems such homelessness and addiction. Veterans will be able to access any of the three tiers of treatment from a single Op Courage service in each of the seven NHS regions.

Director of Health and Justice, Armed Forces and Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) for NHS England, Kate Davies CBE, says: ‘Op Courage is a great initiative that we have developed in collaboration with veterans to bring three mental health services under one umbrella, to make them easier to access for the 2.4 million veterans around England who may need them.’

What the scheme means for those already in civilian employment

There can be no question that the scheme will be an important step in ensuring that veterans receive the treatment they need in a timely fashion. In turn, this will make a veteran’s transition to civilian life easier, and will mean they can work towards securing employment, and ensure that the many transferable skills they have developed during their military careers can be put to good use.

The scheme is of course also open to those who have already moved into new civilian careers but who still need support. Some will have done so without receiving treatment for their underlying mental health conditions, and the knowledge that this treatment is available will help those individuals maintain their new jobs and hopefully gain in confidence in their new roles. Effective treatment may also unleash the potential in some who have been held back by their problems, and will ultimately mean that career progression and a more successful civilian career becomes within their reach.

Those veterans who are suffering from mental health problems as a result of their service should be encouraged in the first instance to speak with someone they trust about the issues they are experiencing. When they feel ready to, they should utilise the excellent service being offered by the Op Courage initiative, which is such a positive step in ensuring that veterans get the best start possible in making the transition from military to civilian life.

 

About the author

Claire is an associate solicitor in the military claims team at Bolt Burdon Kemp, with a strong background in both claimant and defendant litigation.  She has particularly extensive experience in dealing with claims relating to orthopaedic and spinal injuries. She is tenacious, but approachable, and works hard to achieve the very best for her clients.

Claire is a keen runner having undertaken several 10k runs and half marathons for various charities, and is now planning fundraising activity for the military charities that help her clients.

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