Support for Scotland’s veterans has improved, but they mustn’t be left behind in nation’s COVID-19 recovery plans

The Scottish Veterans Commissioner (SVC) Charlie Wallace has published his second annual independent assessment of the Scottish Government’s progress on supporting veterans in Scotland.

It found that sustained effort across government and partner organisations has led to notable ongoing improvements, but with more to do. It also highlights the risk to further progress presented by fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. It underlines a need to pick up pace towards delivery if we are to avoid veterans being left behind.

The progress report, introduced in June 2019, is a tool used by the SVC to capture, track and report on action taken in response to recommendations made by the Commissioner’s office to the Scottish Government to help improve support and services for Scotland’s veterans community. There are 63 recommendations in total, taken from four in-depth reports published in the past five years.

A standard RAG (red, amber, green) rating, based on facts supplied by Scottish Government officials and the Commissioner’s own knowledge of developments, has been applied to each recommendation to indicate the progress that has been made towards meeting it.

Overall, the findings are encouraging, with 41 (65%) of recommendations having been implemented. Of these, twenty-two (35%) have been fully implemented, with the remaining 19 (30%) identified as being implemented with further work required to ensure they are embedded.

However, there is still work to be done, with a further 18 only partially implemented, and two being identified as having no notable progress made against them.

Charlie Wallace, the Scottish Veterans Commissioner, said: “Providing scrutiny and supportive challenge to policy makers and those providing services to the veterans community is an important part of my role, and assessing progress annually tells us whether current actions are effective in driving delivery of SVC recommendations.

“Overall, my latest progress report tells a positive story of continuous improvement, with 65% of my recommendations now implemented. This is a significant achievement and represents a sustained effort across government and partner organisations, large and small, to improve support and services for veterans and their families.

“However, there is still more to be done. Twenty recommendations are outstanding and in need of further attention to effect change. As we enter an unprecedented period amid the coronavirus pandemic, challenges for veterans around employment and skills development and health and mental health have never been greater. There is a very real risk that instability and job cuts will pose serious barriers to Service Leavers and veterans, who already face additional challenges when seeking civilian employment. They are looking at fewer job opportunities, as well as the prospect of going up against a large number of candidates with significant experience of applying for and working in civilian roles.

“It’s crucial that appropriate steps are taken to address these issues, and I implore the Scottish Government and its delivery partners to take account of the status of my recommendations and of the specific needs of veterans as it shapes its responses to these challenges.”

The report shows that notable improvements have been made in the area of housing information for Service Leavers and veterans, where nine out of twelve recommendations have been fully implemented, while good headway has also been made in the area of health and wellbeing.

Charlie Wallace continued: “We have seen good progress towards delivering some of the recommendations from the Health and Wellbeing report, published in 2018. Measures have been put in place to help identify veterans accessing NHS care, and a successful pilot improving chronic pain management for veterans has concluded, with findings being taken forward. Most significantly, a Scottish Veterans Care Network, which will manage the delivery of some of the most challenging recommendations in this area, has been established and will be formally launched this week.

“In the area of employability, skills and learning, the Veterans Employability Strategic Group, has recently been revitalised with the appointment of co-chairs from the business community and the Scottish Government’s Directorate for Fair Work, Employability & Skills. The group brings high-level leadership and co-ordination and is now working on a new vision that will focus on driving further change. Effective steps have also been taken to improve recognition of veterans’ skills and abilities among employers, while there has been exceptional progress in establishing Veterans and Armed Forces Champions in Colleges and Universities with the aim of attracting more veterans into further and higher education. These are all important steps forward that should open up new employment and learning opportunities for Service Leavers in the civilian world, however, the specific needs of the veterans community in the wake of COVID-19 must be taken into account to ensure continued progress in this area.”

Recommendations highlighted as requiring further attention include assessing the scale and nature of drugs misuse amongst the veterans community in Scotland; developing the Mental Health Action Plan (although the Commissioner is assured this is the top priority for the new Scottish Veterans Care Network); maximising Service Leavers’ access to careers guidance; utilising Service Leavers and veterans to fill known skills gaps; recruitment incentives for employers; and promoting young Early Service Leavers to employers.

In addition to his 2020 assessment of Scottish Government Progress, the Commissioner has also been working on a new report examining employment, skills and learning when it comes to transitioning from the military. Due to be published next month, the report will look at how support and opportunities in this area can best serve both the aspirations of Scotland’s veterans community and its labour market needs.

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