When Gordon Brown dropped in for politically obliging photography with troops in the desert the only smile visible was the rictus grin of the Prime Minister. What a contrast with the new man at Number 10 passing with consummate ease among servicemen that seem genuinely pleased to see him.
Whilst our sailors, soldiers and airmen sweat on the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review they can be in no doubt of David Cameron’s commitment to their welfare. In his first few weeks at Number Ten he doubled their operational allowance and announced from the Navy’s flagship HMS Ark Royal that the military covenant will be seared in statute.
One of the Prime Minister’s first acts in government was to commission a review of healthcare available to veterans. Very quickly mental healthcare was identified as the principal cause for concern. Remedial action points were seen by Andrew Lansley and Liam Fox over the summer and are now on the PM’s desk.
We must be far more pro-active in discovering and managing mental health problems among servicemen and veterans, a stiff upper lip community that is notoriously reluctant to seek help. A new approach to service provision is needed that is palatable to veterans from WWII octogenarians to teenagers fresh out of Helmand. Innovation is key, a ‘Heineken’ paradigm reaching those that conventional services plainly have not. The recommendations have been written with this in mind.
Throughout my review I have been struck by the almost grudging beneficence of past British governments towards uniformed men and women in stark contrast with that of other nations, particularly our Anglophone partners.
I doubt our warriors will ever enjoy the hero worship that Uncle Sam lavishes on America’s finest. However, the military covenant means going the extra mile to promote the wellbeing of those that have been in the line of fire. This is particularly so when they have paid a price, mentally or physically, for their service.
After David Cameron’s great start, the UK’s Armed Forces, however configured post SDR, can surely look forward to government fulfilling its side of the bargain implicit in the military covenant. I hope my review of the mental healthcare of veterans will be a useful part in the mix.