Below is a snapshot of some of the many engagements, events and activities the Scottish Veterans Commissioner, Lt Cdr (retired) Susie Hamilton has undertaken since starting her role.
I kicked off my new role with a visit to Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory, where I met with some of the 34 disabled veterans employed to make poppies and wreaths for the Scottish Poppy Appeal. They shared some of the challenges they had faced upon leaving the Forces, and highlighted the difference that support from organisations such as Poppyscotland and my former employer, Scottish Veterans Residences, can make in helping veterans find their feet. I also had the opportunity to chat with new Poppyscotland director Austin Hardie, who updated me on the charity’s work and future plans.
I had further opportunity to hear the first-hand experiences of veterans at the Whitekirk Hill 5K, a SSAFA fundraising event organised by Mo and Gerry Taggart, who are veterans and longstanding, dedicated supporters of the Forces community.
Afterwards, I dropped by the Poppyscotland Sportive Station in Gifford, where we were passed by hundreds of cyclists taking to the roads to help raise vital funds for the charity – some cycling up to 102 miles! The sun was shining and it was great to see so many members of the community out to support their veteran brothers and sisters.
I had the pleasure of meeting veterans from a diverse range of backgrounds when I was invited to the ACVC Hub exhibition in Glasgow, where an impressive collection of their arts and crafts works was on display. The exhibition was sponsored by Walking with the Wounded’s MEDALS programme, which helps veterans improve their wellbeing through a range of activities. This was a commendable example of organisations working together and it was great to see the positive impact of the partnership.
When speaking with veterans about their experiences, one of the most frequently raised topics is health and mental health, and the accessibility of appropriate support. For that reason, it was an early priority to meet with health and mental officials from the Scottish Government, including National Clinical Director Jason Leitch and Dr Charles Winstanley. Dr Winstanley chairs the Scottish Government’s Implementation Board for the new Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service, which was developed in response to a recommendation in the 2018 SVC Report on Veterans’ Health and Wellbeing. I look forward to engaging with Dr Winstanley, Prof Leitch, and other officials regularly to ensure that adequate progress is being made to meet the health and mental health care of veterans.
Most recently, I was delighted to host a meeting at SVC HQ in Edinburgh with Veterans Commissioner for Northern Ireland Danny Kinahan, Veterans Commissioner for Wales James Phillips, and Independent Veterans Advisor to the UK Government David Richmond. This was the first time the independent veterans’ representatives for all four UK nations came together face to face, and provided an important opportunity for us to discuss ways that we can work together and learn from each other. The first meeting of our Veterans Voice working group was an important step in our aim to ensure the voice of lived experience is at the centre of our work, and I look forward to working together closely to improve outcomes and maximise opportunities for our veterans and their families.
Looking ahead to November, I will be undertaking my first assessment of Scottish Government progress against SVC recommendations. This allows us to identify and celebrate successes, but crucially it also helps us to highlight the areas where progress is slow and challenge those responsible to refocus their attentions. I look forward to sharing my findings on this in due course.