Section 1: Veteran and family empowerment
‘One person joins but the whole family serves’
Evidence from Organisations and Published Sources
Our armed forces simply could not operate without the support and sacrifices made by spouses, partners, and children during a Service person's career. Yet, on transition from the military, much of the support available is focussed on the individual Service leaver and family members can feel excluded. This is also the case with bereaved partners, who can feel particularly isolated and forgotten.
Partners and Spouses
Partners and spouses of members of the armed forces often experience very disrupted career patterns as they move around with their family. If they choose to remain stable in one location, employment options can also be limited due to being effectively a lone parent during the week. Deployment can exacerbate this with families being adversely affected by the absence of the Service person. The significance of this has changed over time: while in the past it was normal to have one main breadwinner, in today’s economic climate two working partners is usually a necessity. Military spouses and partners may have atypical CVs but offer a vast range of skills for those employers who can see past the frequent changes of job or gaps in employment history.
Veterans’ partners may have qualifications and registration gained in other parts of the UK (such as in teaching, healthcare, and social care) and there should be seamless transition to make the most of this valuable workforce and avoid disadvantage to families due to Service. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
A good example, however, is the NHS Scotland careers website which provides recruitment support and guidance for the wider armed forces community including Service leavers, spouses, partners, and children. The website gives 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.
Children and Young People
Children and young people from Service families are generally confident, resilient, and adaptable and they have considerable experience of change and of fitting in to new social groups. However, they may struggle during transition from a military to a veteran family and feel excluded from the process. They may also find it challenging if moving away from home, school, and friends to a new unfamiliar area where there may be limited understanding from teachers and others about military families. Some may need specialist support but access to that may depend on geographic location.
Forces Children Scotland (FCS) work with and support children and young people from armed forces and veteran families in areas such as mental health and wellbeing, and education and learning. They provide experiences which help young people develop new skills, build confidence, and make new friends with others from similar backgrounds. In 2023 FCS launched the Ruby Boots project to support children whose parents are transitioning from the armed forces and their Tornado campaign which explains the effect that transition has on children and young people.
In addition to their work with Forces Children Scotland and Carers Trust, the Children’s Society have been awarded a grant from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust (AFCFT) to develop further participation, skills development and training, bringing together stakeholders and making links in the sector to support young carers within the armed forces community.
Across the UK, Help for Heroes have recently commissioned Kooth to provide accessible and inclusive mental health services for children and young people in the veteran community.
“I didn’t want to leave the patch as being part of an Army family was all I knew.”
– Young person
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, including of course veterans themselves, may be bereaved much later in life. While there is support available for family members from both the MOD and many charities, including Cruse Bereavement Support, SSAFA, Poppyscotland and the Veterans Welfare Service, there may be those who are bereaved who do not know where to turn. Some can find supportive comradeship in belonging to organisations such as the War Widows Association and individual Service Widow’s Associations. However, not every bereaved person will join an association and will not have access therefore to the support and information such organisations can offer.
For older widows and widowers Age Scotland produces an informative practical guide. While not specifically aimed at veterans, it covers coping with a bereavement, dealing with grief and the importance of looking after oneself. Research by the Northern Hub for Veterans and Military Families at Northumbria University 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 study aimed to provide an evidence base to drive change and increase awareness and recognition of the role families play and ensure that bereaved spouses are not forgotten.
Scotty's Little Soldiers provide a comprehensive bereavement support service for military children and young people who have experienced the death of a parent who served in the UK armed forces. They support children and young people across the UK through four family programmes; Smiles, Support, Strides and Springboard. These programmes include fun and engagement activities, emotional health and wellbeing support, education and development needs and support for young adults aged 18-25.
Personal Testimony to the Commissioner
Across the range of Veterans Voice groups, I heard that while many veterans in need do access high quality and effective support from public services and other organisations, many do not. This will be for a range of reasons, including not knowing about it, feeling it is not for them or being unwilling to seek help.
Partners and Spouses
I met with several partners and spouses, including partners of injured veterans who are supported by the charity Blesma, members of the Military Wives Choirs, non-UK spouses, members of a womans business network and others. I heard how proud they were to be military spouses and how proud they were of their serving or veteran partner.
There was however frustration expressed that partners are not always included in services, and that support is aimed only at the ex-Service person. This was particularly true of transition and mental health support.
Getting involved in a specific activity can help veterans and their spouses or partners to engage with their local community and may help with mental health and wellbeing needs such as loneliness and depression. Veterans Sport Stirling and the Military Wives Choirs are two notable examples of community engagement that I learned more about, and many veterans I have spoken to talked about a wide range of activities they feel supports their wellbeing.
Families talked about organisations that specifically include partners, such as Help for Heroes, Blesma and local organisations. These can provide a lifeline for partners who are potentially working, caring for their veteran, and caring for children which leaves very little space left for themselves.
“Taking part in sport is something positive to do with my partner and helps their mental health.”
– Veteran’s partner
Children and Young People
I met with young people from veteran families who are being supported by the charity Forces Children Scotland.
We discussed the effects of their parent’s transition from the armed forces, and I heard that transition could lead to a sense of loss, for example loss of identity, loss of friends and the loss of being part of a community. They said that losing connections to the ‘military family’ was one of the hardest aspects to deal with, when being part of that family brings with it an immense feeling of pride and of belonging.
I heard about the challenges that they faced, such as disruption to family life and education, and by not being well understood by the statutory services they access. They specifically mentioned that some schoolteachers have a poor understanding of what it means to be a veteran and often had a stereotyped view of veterans as older men or injured male soldiers.
We discussed how children and young people from Service families may have had to cope with bereavement or have caring responsibilities for a parent because of Service injury or illness.
I was told that it can be hard to move to a new area and a new community that has no instinctive understanding of what Service life is like. The young people told me that there was a lack of awareness of information and support. I heard about the importance of social connections and friendships. They felt it really helped to have someone to speak to who understands them, as they have been in the same situation and have shared in the unique camaraderie of military life.
Listen to 15-year-old Sophia share her experiences of growing up in a forces and now veteran family
What can be improved
Employers in Scotland need to 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.
Employers should be aware that spouses and partners of Service leavers and veterans may have specific needs such as the requirement for flexibility. In seeking to better support these needs Scotland can only benefit from the skills this potential workforce brings.
Support should be available for military partners setting up businesses in Scotland. While not for everyone, setting up in business is an effective way to overcome the disadvantage of being a Service, then veteran, partner. Self-employment has several advantages for the military family and the Scottish economy: it can be more flexible; can be portable; supports the local economy; supports effective transition by providing one stable income 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.
Unhelpful stereotypes must be challenged, and positive examples of veterans and their families should be promoted by government and others.
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.
- Report home
- Introduction and approach
- Section 1: Veteran and family empowerment
- Section 2: Understanding, recognising, valuing and supporting diversity
- Section 3: Responsive to need and collaborative in approach
- Scottish Veterans Commissioner Recommendations