THE BLOG

Our Armed Forces Members Experiencing Mental Health Problems Deserve Parity of Care

10/03/2016 14:51 GMT | Updated 11/03/2017 10:12 GMT

Serving in the Armed Forces is one of the most honourable positions to hold. Thousands of brave men and women risk their lives on the front line to keep our country safe. They work to protect people living in the face of conflict. They deserve our constant support and eternal gratitude.

Every five years, Parliament must pass an Armed Forces Bill to renew military law and to ensure that a standing army is kept in peacetime. The Armed Forces Bill 2015 has completed its initial stages in the House of Commons and is currently going through the Lords. Throughout, it has received cross-party backing with everyone acknowledging the need for our Armed Forces; and recognising and appreciating the vital work they do.

The Bill gives parliamentarians a chance to try and improve the lives of our military, with amendments being proposed in the Lords ranging from reporting sexual assault to the quality of catering.

Those joining our Armed Forces are often called upon to put their life on the line. Tragically, we often hear about the injuries and illnesses they suffer as a consequence of their service, often with long-lasting implications not just for the individual themselves but their families too.

Mental illness can be just as debilitating as physical injuries. We know that many veterans of conflicts face post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health conditions. Despite the work of the Royal British Legion and other veterans' welfare organisations, many ex- service personnel find it hard to adjust to civilian life. Most eventually find their feet, but some suffer from anxiety, depression, phobias or a range of other conditions. Studies from the King's Centre for Military Health Research have found that domestic violence and harmful drinking is more likely among those veterans experiencing mental health problems. It can be a hard landing after a life in uniform.

Despite the mental health of soldiers and veterans receiving greater attention in recent years, there is a wide disparity between the support offered for physical problems and that for mental health problems. Under the current scheme, mental ill health doesn't hold a high enough classification to warrant the upper award of compensation- despite its potentially limiting impact on day-to-day life. Labour is calling on Ministers to put this right.

This is an important test-case for the Government's intent on mental health. After pressure from Labour during the passage of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, the Government is now committed to what is called 'parity of esteem' between physical and mental health. If they want to put their words into action, let them start with fair compensation for our service personnel.

Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum are supporting our amendment to The Armed Forces Bill 2015, as they recognise how serious this problem is. At the Lords Committee stage of the Bill, the Defence Minister Earl Howe defended the status quo. He claimed that support for members of the Armed Forces suffering from mental ill health is already in place, and that the financial compensation is sufficient.

We disagree. Members of our Armed Forces who experience mental health problems as a result of serving their country should get the same compensation as their counterparts suffering from physical injury and illness. We will continue to call on the government to recognise this, act on it and give all our veterans the support they need.

Lord Don Touhig is Shadow Defence Minister in the House of Lords

Luciana Berger is the Shadow Minister for Mental Health and MP for Liverpool Wavertree