Sunderland 'disappointment' at veterans' campaign setback

A support group has expressed its disappointment at a setback suffered by a growing campaign for greater monitoring of suicide rates among military veterans.

Thursday, 21st February 2019, 15:46 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st February 2019, 17:37 pm

Former servicemen and women, MPs and charities have all called for figures to be automatically collated by coroners to help determine the extent of the problem.

An Echo investigation last year revealed that no fresh study has taken place for a decade with campaigners fearing that the number of United Kingdom veterans taking their own life has increased following harrowing service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Campaigners fear an increase in soldiers suffering mental health problems following harrowing military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While defence minister Tobias Ellwood has announced that fresh research is imminent, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) now claims it is not feasible for coroners to record veteran suicides.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

A spokesman for the department said there were "complex problems" surrounding the "potential difficulties of accurately establishing a person’s occupational history".

Former serviceman Ger Fowler, who runs Sunderland-based Veterans in Crisis, expressed his "disappointment" at the news.

Mr Fowler, who served with the Light Infantry in Northern Ireland during the bloody Troubles, said: "It seems such a simple to do given the technology in this day and age.

Veterans in Crisis founder Ger Fowler.

"You would have thought that it would not take long to establish that someone was a former soldier and for a coroner to log the information."

Campaigners fear many veteran deaths fall "under the radar" because their past service is not flagged up at inquests into their deaths and insist that confirming the true figure will guide ongoing help.

Mr Ellwood said in November that it was his ambition "to understand from every coroner whether an individual death is a veteran or not".

The Ministry of Defence (MdD) is now considering how to respond to the setback with a Parliamentary Defence Select Committee report on the issue of military mental health also expected to be published early next week.

An MoD spokeswoman replied: “We take the well-being of all those who have served extremely seriously and we are currently considering how we can better understand the cohort of veterans who take their own lives.”

Mr Fowler, from the Southwick area of Sunderland and a former pupil at St Thomas Aquinas School, founded Veterans in Crisis in its current guise in 2018 after his own battles against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

It has helped around 100 former servicemen and women in the last year tackle a range of issues such as addiction, housing and mental health concerns as well as problems with the police.It holds surgeries every Tuesday at the Gunners Club, 10-11 Mary Street, Sunderland city centre, from 10am-1pm.

Further information is also available from (07398) 916590 or at its Veterans in Crisis Sunderland Facebook page.