Sending our men and women to the frontline changes them forever

The Ministry of Defence is looking into suicide rates among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Cases where former servicemen and women have taken their own lives will be the focus of the research. It will look into the causes of death among those who left the Armed Forces.

It’s been reported that more than 40 former or current service personnel are believed to have taken their lives so far this year.

Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood said the “vital” new study will further the MoD’s understanding of the “wellbeing of our people so we can continue to provide the best possible care to all who have served”.

In July the House of Commons Defence Committee published its latest report on the scale of mental health issues in the armed forces.

It warned that the number of Armed Forces men, woman and veterans seeking mental health care had nearly doubled over the past decade.

In particular, there were high levels of those who saw combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The MPs said it was still taking “too long” for veterans to access treatment, with some falling through the gaps and availability of care varying in different parts of the UK.

Official Ministry of Defence figures showed that 3.1% of serving personnel are diagnosed with mental health conditions – twice the proportion seen in 2008-2009.

But the committee warned that the number of veterans with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression could be three times higher, at about 10%, amid concern that some may not seek help because of stigma surrounding mental health.

In 2014 a study found that PTSD levels were at 6.9% among regular troops and 6% among reservists.

It must be obvious that if we send our men and women to the front line they will return changed forever.  To what extent, and for how long, depends on the individual.

The MoD claims it has sufficient help in place if required, but that is not the experience of those who seek help from our military team.

Many servicemen and women are too scared to come forward and admit they have a problem – they fear their military careers will be affected or lost completely. Yet, if PTSD is treated early, careers can be saved.

Why the MoD doesn’t invest in rehab and counselling for all those who have served on the front line is inconceivable. Not only is it the very least our troops deserve, it is also a false economy to lose a highly trained soldier to PTSD when early intervention and counselling could avoid this.

Hilary Meredith