Massive increase in Afghanistan veterans seeking mental health support

Experts warn the 57% jump in numbers of former soldiers seeking mental health support the last 12 months is just the tip of the iceberg

Tony Wright, head of North East veterans’ charity Forward Assist
Tony Wright, head of North East veterans’ charity Forward Assist

A massive increase in the amount of Afghanistan Veterans seeking mental health support could be just the tip of the iceberg, according to a North East expert.

The charity Combat Stress reported there was a 57% increase in new referrals to it from 2012 to 2013. The spike in figures in that time from 228 to 352 takes its current caseload to over 660 Afghanistan Veterans.

With troops withdrawing from all but two bases in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in March this year, the number of veterans needing treatment is likely to continue to increase.

Tony Wright, head of North East veterans charity Forward Assist, said: “I warned last year there was a tsunami of mental health issues coming our way so I’m not surprised by the figures in the slightest.

“However, that doesn’t mean people should sleep uneasily in their beds about what vets with mental health issues might do to them. We should be deciding what more we can do to help the vets.

“Enough isn’t being done for them - this isn’t just a criticism of the present Government but ones in the past too - and we can take a leaf out of the book of what the Americans are doing in this regard.

“We have an exchange visit with US veterans’ groups going on as I speak to this end. I think they’re about 20 or 30 years ahead of us in what they do for their ex-forces personnel.” Combat Stress, founded 95 years ago after the First World War, provides specialist clinical treatment and welfare support to all UK veterans suffering from psychological injuries. The charity currently spends nearly £14m per annum to deliver its unique range of services to veterans suffering from mental ill-health.

Its current caseload of over 5,400 across the UK means it is deal with more veterans than at any time in its history,

It has found that, on average, veterans wait 13 years after leaving service before seeking their help, but this has fallen to an average of 18 months for Afghanistan vets.

Commodore Andrew Cameron, chief executive of Combat Stress, said: “A small, yet significant number of veterans who serve in the Armed Forces each year continue to relive the horrors they experienced on the frontline. Day in, day out, they battle these hidden psychological wounds, often tearing families apart in the process.

“20% of veterans are likely to suffer from mental ill-health. They have faced unique challenges and require – and deserve – specialist support to help them overcome these challenges.

“However, with demand for our services already surging, Combat Stress faces a real challenge in continuing to provide our unique life changing clinical treatment and support services to those who need it.

“We are planning for services at or above the current level for at least the next five years, and we do not expect to see demand for support tail-off in the near future.

“We have had great support from the Government and the public over recent years and we simply could not operate without the generosity we have experienced.

“We cannot allow the ex-Service men and women who suffer from the invisible injuries of war to go unnoticed and untreated. This is an unnecessary drain on society and our Veterans and families deserve better.”

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