Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson has reiterated the need for the Ministry of Defence to introduce a Military Covenant in Northern Ireland to ensure members of the Armed Forces and veterans receive the help and support they need.
Mr Donaldson was speaking after a BBC Spotlight programme revealed there are veterans who feel there is a gap in support services for those leaving the forces.
“Despite assurances to the contrary, it is evident to me that many of our armed forces veterans are not receiving the support that they need and deserve,” said Mr Donaldson.
“We have over 100,000 veterans living in Northern Ireland and many of them reside in our local community here in Lisburn, which has been Headquarters to the Army for decades.
“Recent studies confirm that Northern Ireland has the highest levels of post-conflict trauma and often this involves former members of the armed forces who served here during Operation Banner and those who served overseas in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Many of these veterans have developed post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), having been either badly injured themselves or been witness to terrible atrocities and the human suffering that is associated with conflict and terrorism.
“In many of these cases, the veterans are not receiving adequate support and treatment and this can result in devastating consequences for them and their families.
“Whilst the military charities and veterans support organisations such as the Royal British Legion, The Army Benevolent Fund, SSAFA, Help for Heroes and Combat Stress do some excellent work to support veterans and provide them with access to proper treatment, they have to operate with limited resources.
“In any event it is simply not right that the men and women who served our country with such distinction and bravery should have to rely on charity.
“The Government has a duty to support them and the Military Covenant was established to ensure this happened.
“However, it is evident that the Military Covenant is not being implemented fully in Northern Ireland and this needs to change.
“We are currently working with the Government, military charities and veterans support organisations to establish a Veterans Centre in Northern Ireland that will ensure proper and effective coordination and delivery of support services and treatment to veterans here.
“We are also encouraging the new councils to adopt the Community Covenant to help build more effective relationships in support of veterans and the armed forces in their locality.
“A proposal is to be brought before Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council to adopt the community covenant locally. This will help to strengthen the relationships between the various military unites based in Thiepval Barracks and our local community.”
Responding to calls for a Military Covenant, a spokesperson for the MoD said that it already existed in “all but name”.
He continued: “Since the launch in 2011 of the Armed Forces Covenant scheme, the MOD has been working closely with NI Government departments, Service charities and interested groups to build on already existing measures. Indeed by 2013 the NI Affairs Committee reported that – less some specific areas – Armed Forces provision in NI was being achieved.
“Since then, without fanfare, MOD has continued to work through the regional nuances of NI to such an extent that the model of one to one relationships with all stakeholders might be replicated elsewhere. Of course we recognise on-going areas for improvement such as provision for those veterans who don’t wish to engage with local health providers in order to keep their military past anonymous. We are working on that.
“The MOD, NIO, Service charities and associated interest groups are tirelessly engaged in improving the service provision for the entire Armed Forces Community in NI. Mindful of the environment differences with GB this is an on-going process with no set end date.
“We welcome identification of any areas of weakness or ineffectiveness to focus on resolution,