21st June 2017 Laura Hayward

A new service launched yesterday called Veterans’ Gateway is promising to revolutionise a military charity sector that currently leaves over 61 per cent of veterans confused, by providing a first point of contact for veterans seeking support.

Launched ahead of the annual Armed Forces Day this weekend, Veterans’ Gateway will improve access to welfare services and speed-up the time it takes for veterans to receive the support they deserve. The new £2 million service is funded by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) from the Covenant Fund and will be delivered by a Royal British Legion-led consortium comprising Poppyscotland, Combat Stress, Connect Assist, the Ministry of Defence and SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity.

Independent research commissioned by the consortium that 61 per cent found the sheer number of charity providers confusing; there are now over 2,000 registered Armed Forces charities. The resulting confusion left 47 per cent unsure where to turn. Over 50 per cent of respondents said the number of military charities makes it ‘harder and slower’ to get the right help, with 18 per cent having been referred to between three and 10 charities before they get the necessary support.

The new 24-hour online chat, phone, and text message service is partly manned by veterans who have been trained to help a British Armed Forces community estimated to be around 6 million and growing by 20,000 annually. Bringing together over 30 referral partners including Veterans UK, Mind and the Career Transition Partnership to name but a few – and with more organisations to be added – veterans and their dependents will be able to access support services in areas including physical health, financial support, assistance with independent living, housing, mental wellbeing, and employment.

The service comes in response to independent reports published by the Forces in Mind Trust and Lord Ashcroft’s 2014 Veterans’ Transition Review, which both called for the process by which veterans are guided to welfare support services to be made easier to navigate. Lord Ashcroft’s principal recommendation was the creation of a single 24/7 contact centre.

Mark Bibbey, Chief Executive of Poppyscotland, on behalf of the Veterans’ Gateway consortium said: “Despite the wonderful work that charities do, we must face up to the fact that the sheer number of providers in our sector can cause confusion amongst the veterans we are trying to help. Veterans’ Gateway has been born from the need to make things simpler, providing a first point of contact for those in need. With 86 per cent of our veterans in Scotland welcoming its creation, it will mark a huge step towards delivering the help that our ex-Servicemen and women deserve.”

George Holmes, a 67 year-old who served for 12 years in the Royal Navy, comes from a proud military family. Following active service during the Aden Emergency, he found the transition to “Civvy Street” incredibly difficult but did not feel able to reach out to any charities for guidance. He believes Veterans’ Gateway will be a great help for others like him struggling to adapt to life outside the military.

George said: “When I was leaving the Navy, there was simply no help available. Nobody spoke to you about what you had been through, and there was no obvious help when finding work. It is important for people to find the confidence to ask for help and not see it as a weakness. In my day we weren’t forthcoming about asking for help, but it should be different now. The Veterans’ Gateway will give ex-Service personnel the helping hand they need.”

Tobias Ellwood, Minister for Defence People and Veterans said: “The vast majority of our people make a smooth transition from military to civilian life, but Veterans’ Gateway provides extra support in the form of a staffed, 24-hour, one-stop-shop offering guidance on housing and employment, finance, mental and physical health. Our £2 million investment honours the nation’s Armed Forces Covenant and draws all facets of support for our Armed Forces community together for the first time.”

In 2013 The Forces in Mind Trust’s independent Transition Mapping Study found that the unsuccessful transition from Service to civilian life cost the UK economy an estimated £113 million in 2012 alone. It is hoped that with earlier, more accurate intervention, the cost will be considerably less, to both the individual seeking support and the UK economy.

To contact Veterans’ Gateway
Call: 0808 802 1212
Text: 81212