EMMA LEWELL-BUCK, MP: We must fight for our female veterans

Servicewomen.

Servicewomen.

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Serving your country is an honour and I think we are all in agreement that when our brave servicemen leave the forces they should be looked after and supported.

But the question often overlooked is what happens to our servicewomen?

I, like many others, just assumed that our brave women would be looked after and supported in the same way as men - and they are, but what I’ve learned is that what they actually need is treatment tailored to them.

At the last official count in 2016, there were 15,280 women in the regular forces and 4,890 in reserve forces. Women since the First World War have played a vital role in the forces. Even the Queen played her part for ‘Queen and country’, operating as a mechanic in the Second World War.

However, as the roles and responsibilities of women have increased, it would appear that the help and support offered has taken a back seat.

The Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, MP, confirmed that the responsibility for veterans’ healthcare, including mental healthcare, is primarily that of the NHS, along with devolved administrations, partnerships and service charities.

At a time when the funding for all of these departments and agencies has been slashed and cost-saving exercises implemented, it will surely have a detrimental effect on our veterans.

Between October 2015 and September 2016, 1,188 female military personnel were assessed for a mental health disorder. If the numbers of females in active service seeking help for mental health disorders are this high, then how many veterans are suffering too?

With female veterans often less likely to receive a PTSD diagnosis, it is little wonder that they find it difficult to get the help associated with their condition.

Female veterans are often expected to attend a male orientated support group, where men re-tell their accounts of war on the frontline, which often vary greatly to the experiences of women. This leads to female veterans feeling alone and isolated, with nowhere to turn and no one to understand their issues.

Sadly, like many others, this Government continues to fail them and many leave the forces with little help or guidance on re-adjustment back into civilian life.

A recent All Party Parliamentary Group report on adult mental health, which I chaired, found that female veterans’ needs in relation to mental health issues were particularly overlooked.

The report also called on the Government to establish an inquiry into the mental health of female veterans in order to develop a framework to support them.

Here in the North East we are very lucky to have the charity Forward Assist, who reach out to female veterans and tailor support and assistance to them. They have found that female veterans are almost an invisible group in society, not by design but by default.

I and Forward Assist want to change this. We want female veterans to receive not only the recognition that they deserve, but also the support, help and guidance too.

I was delighted this month to become a Forward Assist Ambassador for female veterans and look forward to continuing my work with them, so that no female veteran needs to battle alone.

These women have fought to keep us safe, we must now fight for them.