South Shields anger over set back in veterans' campaign

A support group is angered by a set back suffered by a growing campaign for greater monitoring of suicide rates among military veterans.

By Gavin Ledwith, Digital Specialist
Thursday, 21 February, 2019, 13:58

Former servicemen and women, MPs and charities have all called for figures to be automatically collated by coroners to help determine the extent of the problem.

A Gazette investigation last year revealed that no fresh study has taken place for a decade with campaigners fearing that the number of United Kingdom veterans taking their own life has increased following harrowing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While defence minister Tobias Ellwood has announced that fresh research is imminent, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) now claims it is not feasible for coroners to record veteran suicides.

A spokesman for the department said there were "complex problems" surrounding the "potential difficulties of accurately establishing a person’s occupational history".

Ian Driver, who has helped more than 300 ex-servicemen and women since founding South Shields-based Veterans Response in 2013, said: "It is disappointing and disgusting although I am not surprised to hear it.

Veteran Stephen Latimer.

"You have to ask if the Government really want to know the true extent of the problem.

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"Surely in this day and age with technology it is not difficult for a coroner to establish If someone whose death he is investigating has a military background?"

Veterans Response, based in Beach Road, has helped veterans across the North-East find homes, food and jobs while also ensuring they receive treatment for health issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).Among its volunteers is Stephen Latimer, 40, from Shilbottle, Northumberland, who suffered from PTSD after serving as a lance corporal with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers from 1996 to 2004.

He said: "The problems are growing. I've lost four colleagues who I served with. Two of them this year alone.

"It is often years after people have left the forces before problems surface and we need everyone to work together so that we have got the maximum information possible. "

Mr Ellwood said in November that it was his ambition "to understand from every coroner whether an individual death is a veteran or not".

The Ministry of Defence is now considering how to respond to the set back with a Parliamentary Defence Select Committee report on the issue of military mental health also expected to be published early next week.

An MoD spokeswoman replied: “We take the well-being of all those who have served extremely seriously and we are currently considering how we can better understand the cohort of veterans who take their own lives.”

Further information about Veterans Response or how to support it is available from (0191) 4274764 or at www.veteranstraining.co.uk