Section 2: Understanding, recognising, valuing and supporting diversity
‘We may have all come on different ships but we’re in the same boat now’
Evidence from Organisations and Published Sources
The stated policies of the modern UK armed forces recognise and value diversity and encourage recruitment, retention and promotion that is representative of the nation and reflects the population they seek to defend. Those personnel will become the veterans of the future. That diversity is already reflected in Scotland across the veteran community, and it is critical to avoid making assumptions about who is a veteran.
Too many myths and misunderstandings persist about those who have served their country and helped to keep us safe. Our veterans reflect different genders, cultures, religions, backgrounds, sexual orientations and life experiences. That means that their needs – and the support and access to 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.
As in wider society, women veterans are not a homogenous group. Aside from gender, many factors such as age, ethnicity, sexuality, educational background and childhood experiences will have an effect. There must therefore be caution against reinforcing gender stereotypes. There has recently been a significant amount of published research into the health, wellbeing, societal attitudes and outcomes for women veterans which has helped inform this report.
Servicewomen are more likely to be medically discharged, leave the military early, and serve for shorter durations compared to their male counterparts.
Three recent studies, funded by the Office for Veterans Affairs (OVA), have brought into sharp focus the challenges women veterans experienced in the past and can still experience today.
- Barriers to women veterans accessing services and support from service charities were analysed in research carried out at Robert Gordon University and published in October 2023. Much of this can be translated to public services.
- Anglia Ruskin University’s Centre for Military Womens Research (CMWR) report Where are all the Women? identified issues of recognition, identity, and representation of women veterans.
- Combat Stress, working with the Women’s Royal Army Corps Association, recruited 750 women veterans for a series of studies. The studies identify bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault among women veterans, and the need for better support, outreach, and access to mental health services for this group. Barriers to accessing treatment and support are also identified.
Overall, these reports reinforce the need for more inclusive and gender-sensitive support for women veterans already evidenced from previous reports such as:
- We Also Served
- Issues of Inappropriate Behaviour
- Trends in Scottish Veterans Health
- Longer-Term Employment Outcomes of Ex-Service Personnel
NHS Sexual Assault Response Coordination Services (SARCS) in Scotland provide healthcare and Forensic Medical Examination (FME) services for people in the days following an assault. Self-referral enables someone aged 16 or over to access healthcare and request a FME without first having to make a report to the police. While every SARCS is committed to the provision of person-centered and trauma-informed care, Service personnel and veterans may not be aware of these services or think that they are intended for them.
The Female Veterans Transformation project managed by the Women’s Royal Army Corps Association and the Confederation of Service Charities (Cobseo), is a new programme designed to deliver long-term, systemic change for future women veterans. The project has been awarded funding over a 3-year period to develop a Female Veterans Toolkit available to all charities, commercial and statutory organisations aimed at tackling key themes including physical and mental healthcare, financial advice, care provision, employment services and combating loneliness.
A Women Veterans’ Strategy is currently being developed by the OVA. The strategy will look at the specific needs and challenges faced by women veterans and celebrate their successes. Areas which will be considered in the strategy include mental health support, physical welfare and employment.
Veterans With Disabilities
The consequences of conflict can last a lifetime. As those who were injured physically and mentally in previous conflict, or in other Service-related incidents are getting older, their needs may be changing. Services and support are therefore still required for those veterans and their families who have given the most in defence of our country.
As well as the NHS and social care services, there are many charities across Scotland who do great work in supporting disabled veterans. Some of these are funded by central or local government and some from voluntary income. All are key in ensuring our disabled veterans and their families have access to effective care and support.
While support must be maintained for the most vulnerable, it should be recognised that there are many veterans with disabilities who continue to lead fulfilling lives and have successful second careers after leaving the military. It is important that society and employers see these veterans as valuable and capable individuals who have as much to contribute as their non-disabled peers.
It is important to ensure we continue to support our older veterans, valuing the contribution they have made in Service and continue to make in their local communities. Doing this in a collaborative and joined-up way, as demonstrated through the Unforgotten Forces consortium of armed forces and civilian charities, is a good example of how to deliver high quality and equitable support.
Veterans can be affected by loneliness and isolation at any age, often brought on by the challenges associated with losing the sense of community and camaraderie that comes with Service life. This also applies to their families as they integrate back into civilian life and build new networks, relationships and friendships. Third sector organisations are very often most effective in combatting social isolation and loneliness. Volunteering can bring huge benefits to older veterans, as well as the valuable contribution it makes to the military and wider community.
The Scottish Government strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness Recovering our Connections 2023-2026 sets out a specific action over the first twelve months to ’Engage with veterans' organisations and make use of available data and outcomes to better identify how we can support the Armed Forces community to strengthen social connections’. It will be important to see what emerges from this work in the months ahead as the first results from the 2022 UK Veterans’ Survey suggest that loneliness and isolation remains an issue for some members of the veteran community.
There are many different nationalities who have served in the UK armed forces over the years, they include those who serve in the Brigade of Gurkhas and those from Commonwealth countries. This is a group who are not always familiar with administrative processes and structures within the UK and, therefore, may not know what support they can access when they become veterans. Local authorities are very often unaware of non-UK veterans and their families’ status, rights, and entitlements, and this can cause real difficulties, particularly regarding housing, healthcare and access to higher and further education.
The UK Government has now waived the fees to settle in the UK for those who have served 6 years or more or been discharged because of an illness or injury which is attributable to their Service. The high fees and complexity around applying for visas and leave to remain faced by the families of non-UK Service leavers continues to be a significant issue.
The Royal Navy, Army and RAF Family Federations provide qualified immigration advice to members of the UK armed forces and immediate family members who are eligible to apply for a visa to enter or remain in the UK under the armed forces rules. Crucially, they also provide ongoing immigration advice to veterans and their immediate family members.
A newly established organisation - Commonweath and Families Veterans' Support Group - can also provide a range of support for non-UK veterans and their families.
Research about non-UK veterans has been scarce but the OVA has commissioned RAND Europe to conduct research on the lived experiences of non-UK veterans. In addition, the UK Government's recent consultation, Supporting Our Veterans, included non-UK veterans and their families.
Lord Etherton’s LGBT Veterans Independent Review published in summer 2023, examined the effect that the pre-2000 ban on homosexuality in the UK armed forces has had. The report highlighted the significant impact of the ban and treatment of LGBT+ Service personnel and on the long-term wellbeing of those involved.
Lord Etherton made a range of recommendations and suggestions.
While most of these relate to reserved responsibilities and are for the UK Government to consider, the report did contain two suggestions for Scotland. These were around diversity and inclusivity policies and training for healthcare and housing providers, to ensure that LGBT+ veterans do not face any repeat of the unacceptable treatment they suffered whilst in the armed forces. The Scottish Government has responded to confirm that it is committed to supporting LGBT+ veterans and is considering how to deliver on these suggestions.
“The Civvy environment is now much more accepting and the LGBT+ review is helping this.”
– LGBT+ veteran
Personal Testimony to the Commissioner
Being part of an inclusive and welcoming community builds confidence and can motivate and empower people, including encouraging them to access help when it is needed. However, many individual veterans and groups within the veteran community feel excluded from the support landscape.
I held several meetings and focus groups with over 70 women veterans where participants expressed pride in their Service and their personal achievements. Many had had diverse, fulfilling careers which had tested their physical and mental capacities. They developed skills that exceeded their expectations and formed uniquely valuable and enduring friendships with Service comrades. Military service provided extraordinary opportunities and experiences that they would never have been able to access in civilian life.
For some, however, their experience in the armed forces was far less positive and I heard accounts of discrimination, sexual harassment and incidences of sexual assault. Many of these incidents 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.
As would be expected with a diverse group in terms of age and military experience, there were many contrasting views. However, the point was repeatedly made that many women veterans feel unseen in both the veteran community and wider society. There was frequent reference to veterans’ services being 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 were focussed on men in terms of types of careers promoted and the training available. There were calls for transition to be more tailored for women Service leavers. I also heard that some women found that employers did not have a good understanding of women veterans.
“I was asked why I was wearing a veterans badge at a charity event because I ‘don’t look like a veteran’. I felt invalidated and closed off.”
– Woman Veteran
Veterans with Disabilities
I met with a group of veterans with physical disabilities who were being supported by the charity Blesma, as well as several individuals. I heard about the diversity of their situations, the challenges they faced and the wide range of support available. There were vastly different experiences, with some disabled veterans receiving good support from local authorities in terms of adaptations and from NHS Scotland in terms of treatment, and others expressing frustrations at delays or inadequate equipment and support.
Not all disabilities are physical, or even visible. I have listened to a range of groups and individuals who have stressed the importance of good mental health and wellbeing. Veterans can often find it difficult to reach out for mental health care and support, making it even more important for effective services to be available and accessible throughout Scotland.
I have met with veterans with disabilities who have very fulfilling second careers, sometimes supporting other veterans. Their inspirational success is testament to the quality of medical and social support that they have received and to their outstanding resilience and courage.
I met with older veterans in various settings and heard how important remaining socially active is to their health and wellbeing. The military third sector is particularly effective at delivering social inclusion, whether via membership of ex-Service organisations, informal drop-ins such as breakfast clubs, or hubs where meaningful activity combines with comradeship and support. Examples of such hubs are the Lothian Veterans Centre, Community Veterans Support, ACVC Hub, Sight Scotland Veterans Hawkshead Centre and the Erskine Reid Macewen Activity Centre.
One of the largest groups of non-UK veterans living in Scotland is the Fijian community. Fijians have served in the UK military since 1961 and on leaving many families make 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.
Following attendance at the excellent 2023 Fiji Day celebration in Edinburgh with over 200 members of the Fijian armed forces and veteran community, I had the opportunity to meet some inspiring women. I heard that Fijian families are often “fearful and panicked about their transition” and are worried about housing, finding a job, costs of applying for visas and leave to remain, and educational prospects for their children. They told me all this causes a degree of stress and anxiety for not only the serving partner but the whole family.
They discussed feeling ill-advised during the resettlement process and would like there to be a better understanding of their unique position by resettlement staff. They talked about how public sector staff do not often understand their status or know what advice to give. They said that they do not always 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.
I have heard similar concerns from families of veterans who joined the UK armed forces from other Commonwealth nations.
My engagement 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.
Caution should be exercised in perceiving LGBT+ veterans as a homogenous group: like all veterans they have a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences and needs. However, I heard recurring themes of not feeling well understood by service providers and of not feeling welcome or included in the wider veteran landscape.
Listen to RAF veteran Kent speaking about the lasting impact of serving under the homosexuality ban as a gay man
What can be improved
Public services for veterans in Scotland must be inclusive for all veterans. Service design should take diverse characteristics into account with inclusive content, language and imagery, and staff who are aware that veterans may not conform to stereotypes.
Charities that receive public money to provide services for veterans should be able to evidence training, policy and practice that supports diversity and inclusion. It is important that language and imagery reflects the diversity of the veteran community and does not reinforce stereotypes.
Now that comprehensive research into women veterans’ needs and barriers to accessing services has been published, the recommendations should be considered. In some cases, women veteran specific services may be appropriate. The Female Veterans Transformation Programme that launched in 2023 will provide a toolkit for public, private and third sector organisations to ensure that their services are inclusive for women veterans. Scottish public bodies and other organisations should engage with this project to ensure that the toolkit works effectively in Scotland and ultimately benefit from the sustained improvement it will promote.
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.
As suggested by Lord Etherton, 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.
Lord Etherton recommended that arrangements 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 are encouraged to review this practice to enable LGBT+ veterans to be included in both events should they wish.
It is important for the UK Government to provide effective guidance and support for non-UK serving personnel throughout their Service and transition. This would include the provision of regular information on immigration policy, including the financial implications throughout the individual’s career.
The Scottish Government should take steps to engage, connect with and support non-UK veterans and their families in dealing with their concerns around housing, employment, health, and children’s education following transition.
- 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