British Army Position Paper on the Mental Health of Armed Forces’ Veterans (2014)

You can read the British Army’s position and evidence on veterans’ mental health below:

The Mental Health of Armed Forces’ Veterans, GOC Support Command (2014-01-08).

General Position

The majority of personnel do make a successful transition to civilian life, although a small percentage struggle. The general position is as follows:

  1. Veterans are generally robust people who are likely to suffer the same range of health/welfare issues as the general population.
  2. The vast majority of Service Leavers (SL) housing needs are met on transition to civilian life and the majority of SL obtain gainful employment.
  3. A small minority of Veterans do experience difficulties post-Service, these tend to manifest themselves on average 10 years after discharge.
  4. The adverse outcomes (common mental health problems, unemployment, social isolation, encounters with the criminal justice system) present at a rate less than that in the general population.
  5. Adversity is more common in the untrained and Early Service Leavers (ESL) cohorts. Vulnerability is associated with pre-service adversity (childhood disadvantage, history of anti-social behaviour) rather than a consequence of Service life or combat experience.

Specific Issues

  • Mental Health. The mental health of Veterans is broadly similar to that of the general population, notwithstanding that their military career provides a very specific backdrop and context to some presentations. A career in the Armed Forces is not associated with an overall increase in risk of developing a psychiatric or mental health disorder. There is, so far, no evidence to support the assertion that we are sitting on a time-bomb of PTSD among Regulars who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Contrary to media assertion, the overall suicide risk appears no greater for Veterans than for the general population.
  • Criminal Justice. The long gap between discharge from Service and custody of those who do offend makes it difficult to associate any direct causal link between service in the Forces and imprisonment. There is limited evidence from which to identify any particular reason for Veteran offending which distinguishes Veterans from other offenders. What is clear is that the conventional problems associated with criminal behaviour such as drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, a poor ability to deal with emotions, low educational attainment and financial pressures, appear to be as common among ex-Servicemen in custody as it is among the general prison population. Despite the UK male Veteran population accounting for 9.1% of the population, Veterans account for only 3.5% of the prison population. However, for the few Veterans that do come into contact with the criminal justice system violence and sexual crimes are notable occurrences with the misuse of alcohol an important recurring factor.
  • Vulnerable Veterans. Counter intuitively; it appears that those who serve the shortest time find the return to civilian life the hardest. There is some evidence that ESL experience more mental health problems than those who served for longer. The higher prevalence of susceptibility to mental health problems amongst ESLs , in many cases, accounts for their premature departure from the Armed Forces. For a few ESL the impacts of the various negative pre-Service vulnerability factors, placed on hold whilst in Service, reassert themselves post transition. This may account for the clustering of poor health and social outcomes in the ESL cohort.
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