Report launch: Community and Relationships: Anything but Uniform
More support needed for 'invisible' members of Scotland's veteran community
The Scottish Veterans Commissioner (SVC) today called for more support for the ‘invisible’ members of the veteran community in her new report Community and Relationships – Anything But Uniform.
The report puts the spotlight on those whose voices are less often heard in the military community including women veterans, the LGBT+ community, families, the bereaved, and non-UK veterans.
Following extensive engagement involving hundreds of veterans and their families, along with service providers from the statutory and charity sectors, the Commissioner found that while things are slowly improving, work has still to be done to ensure their experiences, needs and circumstances are not overlooked.
Scottish Veterans Commissioner Susie Hamilton, a former Royal Navy Officer, said: “Just like the whole of society, our veterans reflect different genders, cultures, religions, backgrounds, sexual orientations and life experiences.
“That means that their needs – and the support and services that they and their families might call upon – will be individual to them and their circumstances. To deliver the best possible support, service providers must recognise and understand that diversity and respond sensitively and appropriately. All veterans and their family members should feel understood and equally valued by society and empowered to reach their full potential.”
She added: “While there has undoubtedly been progress in statutory provision for veterans, some parts of the community have not been so well supported. This includes those LGBT+ veterans and women veterans who have had very negative experiences while serving. These experiences may have continued to affect them in their civilian lives and in their approach to accessing support when needed.”
Having listened carefully to veterans, family members and those who support them, the Commissioner will be making the following recommendations to the Scottish Government:
- The identity and contribution of under-represented groups within the veteran community are recognised. Diversity is recognised in language, imagery, policy and practice, and barriers to access are eliminated. Gaps in provision for the specific needs of under-represented groups within the veteran community are addressed.
- A better understanding by service providers of the specific needs of women veterans is required, particularly in the areas of mental health and sexual trauma, to support them more effectively.
- Improved and expanded data capture, analysis and transfer supports and enhances policy development, quality of support and service delivery for the veteran community.
- Spouses, partners, children and the bereaved are explicitly included in policy and practice relating to the veteran community.
- Mechanisms are established to raise awareness, promote good practice, identify and resolve challenges, and provide assurance and consistency of delivery of veterans’ services by public bodies in Scotland (in line with the principles of removing disadvantage due to Service and applying special consideration if appropriate).
- Inconsistency of financial support for the most vulnerable veterans in Scotland should be eradicated by Scottish public bodies.
Lieutenant Commander Hamilton added: “Working on this report very much highlighted that all veterans are unique individuals – we may have worn a uniform but we are anything but uniform. Action has to be taken now to ensure that where veterans and their families need support, it is accessible, effective and appropriate to their needs, for as long as those needs are there.”
More information on the key findings and areas for suggested improvement around the key groups covered by the report is available below:
While many women veterans have had fulfilling careers, providing them with extraordinary opportunities and experiences that they would not have had access to in civilian life, some of the 70 women interviewed for the report said their experience in the armed forces was far less positive.
They suffered discrimination, sexual harassment and incidences of sexual assault, many of which were not reported at the time, or if reported were not taken seriously, which has had a significant impact on the wellbeing of the women involved.
The Commissioner said: “Many women veterans feel unseen in both the veteran community and wider society and said they felt veterans’ services are for men and ‘not for them’. The imagery and language used by some organisations and services are not inclusive, with women being literally ‘invisible.’
“This creates a barrier to accessing services. There was also a lack of awareness among women veterans of the breadth of services and support available to them. Disappointingly, some who had accessed services and support had experienced negative gender stereotyping and discriminatory behaviour.”
Some of the women veterans found that transition activities for leavers were focussed on men in terms of types of careers promoted and the training available.
The Commissioner suggests that:
- Training should be developed for staff working within healthcare services and veteran support services to raise awareness of women’s roles and contributions to military Service, including the impact of exposure to combat.
- Civilian sexual assault services in Scotland must be aware that Service personnel and veterans may be among their users. Staff should be sufficiently informed about the specific experience of sexual violence in the military to enable them to provide an effective support service. NHS Scotland Sexual Assault Response Co-ordination Services (SARCS) should be more widely promoted to Service personnel and veterans, particularly in areas around main military bases in Scotland.
- SARCS could consider learning from services already operating in other parts of the UK. For example, an NHS England pilot programme to improve uptake and awareness of sexual assault around the Catterick Garrison area.
Engaging with LGBT+ veterans, in groups facilitated by the charity Fighting with Pride and in individual meetings, revealed the depth of feelings of rejection and injustice felt by many veterans who had military careers cut short and who were the subject of conduct that is almost inconceivable today.
For some, the harrowing treatment that they received led to long term mental ill health, drug and alcohol addiction and homelessness.
- Public bodies providing services for veterans should implement diversity and inclusion training that includes awareness of the impact of the LGBT+ ban and should have appropriate policies and practice in place.
- In line with recommendations from Lord Etherton, arrangements should be enhanced for LGBT+ veterans to march at Pride events. In some parts of Scotland Pride marches conflict with Armed Forces Day events preventing LGBT+ veterans from attending both. Local authorities should be encouraged to review this practice to enable LGBT+ veterans to be included in both events should they wish.
Families and the bereaved
One of the biggest issues facing many military partners and spouses is disruption to their careers as it can be hard to remain in the same job if the family is moved to another base or their partner is deployed, leaving them as lone parents while they are away. In the past it was normal to have one main breadwinner but in today’s economic climate two working partners is usually a necessity.
Children and young people from Service families are generally confident, resilient, and adaptable. However, they may struggle during transition from a military to a veteran family and feel excluded from the process. If moving away from home, school, and friends to a new unfamiliar area, there may be limited understanding from teachers and others about military families which can be challenging. Some may need specialist support but access to that may depend on geographic location.
The military bereaved population includes armed forces and veteran spouses and partners, their children, and other close family members. Some of them may be bereaved at a relatively early age while others may be bereaved much later in life. While there is support available from the MOD and charities, some may not know where to turn. Research has found that while immediate support is forthcoming for those who are bereaved due to an in-Service death, this can quickly wane, leaving the bereaved family feeling isolated and cut off from the military community they have known.
The Commissioner suggests that:
- Employers in Scotland be alive to the benefits of employing spouses and partners of military personnel and veterans. Registration bodies should make processes more straightforward in accepting qualifications and registration from other parts of the UK. The NHS Scotland careers website is a good example – it provides guidance on how to translate qualifications and experience gained during a military career (or in other parts of the UK) into what is recognised by the NHS in Scotland.
- Support should be available for military partners setting up businesses in Scotland. Self-employment has several advantages for the military family and the Scottish economy: it can be more flexible and can encourage veteran families to stay in Scotland when a business becomes established.
- The voices of veterans’ children should be included in policy development at all levels and the needs of children and young people from armed forces and veteran families should be better understood by education, health and social care providers.
- The bereaved, despite being specifically mentioned in the Armed Forces Covenant as meriting special consideration, are often omitted from policy and practice. It should be recognised that they are also part of the armed forces and veteran community and have sacrificed much in the Service of this country.
The report highlights some of the challenges faced by members of the Fijian community, one of the largest groups of non-UK veterans living in Scotland. Fijians have served in the UK military since 1961, with many making Scotland their home.
Spouses, despite often being highly qualified, may work in quite low paid jobs and are unaware of help available regarding employment, skills and learning opportunities. The reports say many veterans feel ‘fearful and panicked’ about their transition to life outside the military, and worry about housing, finding a job, costs of applying for visas and leave to remain, and educational prospects for their children.
Hamilton said: “Some told me that they did not feel recognised either as a veteran or as part of the veteran community. However, despite this they said that Scotland was a welcoming place, that Fijian families want to stay here and that there are opportunities that would not be open to their children in Fiji."
She says these issues are not just being experienced by Fijian families but by other Non-UK veterans as well.