Armed Forces Day – Why I will be celebrating Armed Forces Day
In the third of a series of exclusive articles for Endeavour Public Affairs to mark Armed Forces Day, which takes place on Saturday 29 June, Darren Millar AM sets out why he will be celebrating Armed Forces Day. In his article he writes about the vital work his committee does to support Armed Forces Veterans across Wales and in particular those suffering with mental health issues.
Darren Millar is the Conservative AM for Clwyd West and is Chairman of the National Assembly for Wales’ Cross Party Group on Armed Forces and Cadets.
As the Chairman of the National Assembly for Wales’ Cross Party Group on Armed Forces and Cadets I know that it is impossible to overstate the contribution that our Armed Forces make to keeping our nation safe, often at great personal risk.
The nature of service in the Forces unique. No other vocation has such a deep impact on everyday life, either for the individual in the Services or their wider family, and it is our moral obligation to ensure that they receive as much support as possible from governments at all levels and in their local communities.
It is for these reasons that I will be celebrating Armed Forces Day on 29th June. The day allows people across the country to publicly recognise the dedication and sacrifice that our Armed Forces have made in the past, are making in the present, and will continue to make in the future.
Whilst Armed Forces Day shines a spotlight on those in the Forces for a single day, it is important that we ensure that their contribution is not overlooked on every other day throughout the year – which is why I’m so supportive of Armed Forces community covenants.
The Armed Forces Community Covernant Scheme affords an opportunity to encourage communities across the country to do more to support and understand the needs of Servicemen and women and their familes on an on-going basis.
I am pleased that as a consequence of the UK Government’s community covenant policy, local communities across Wales are cementing the bonds they have with the Armed Forces family by signing and implementing covenants in their areas. These signed agreements, and the actions which emanate from them, are a positive way for communities to demonstrate their support, raise awareness, and promote practices which recognise the challenges faced by Forces families, help to overcome these, and encourage interaction and understanding between the Forces and the communities in which they are based.
The National Assembly’s Cross Party Group has been supporting the Armed Forces in Wales to raise the profile of the community covenant and support their development and adoption by local authorities across Wales.
There is no doubt that Wales’ local authorities are making good progress. A target has been set of every local authority in Wales signing up by Remembrance Day in November, and I am pleased to confirm that we are well on the way to seeing this goal achieved. But it’s not just the existence of a covenant which is important; it is also the quality of the covenant and its implementation which are paramount.
Some local authorities in Wales are taking innovative steps to implement the covenant in a practical and measurable way. For example, since June 2011 the Vale of Glamorgan Council has asked anyone contacting its customer services centre whether they or a family member has been engaged in the Forces. This enables the Council to identify where the demand for housing, schools, and other public services for Forces families lie and target delivery and signposting accordingly.
Meanwhile, on Anglesey, £200,000 has been provided towards creating a Community Access Heritage Centre at RAF Valley. This will be a showcase for the base, provide new facilities for Service families, and the public and thereby enhancing links with the local community.
Alongside promoting the community covenant scheme, in my role as Chairman I am committed to promoting a number of principles. There should never be any disadvantage in accessing public services as a result of service in the Armed Forces; in some cases special treatment is justified, for example in the case of a serious physical or mental injury.
Physical injuries can be treated in a relatively straight forward manner. However, some personnel will return home with psychological scars, the evidence of which may not emerge for weeks, months or even years after the events that caused them.
Earlier this year the Cross Party Group received an enlightening presentation on the progress of mental health treatment for Veterans in Wales.
The All Wales Veterans’ Health and Wellbeing Service provides a specialised and targeted package of treatment for many Veterans in Wales and operates via an open referral system, whereby Veterans can self-refer or be referred by their families or other agencies. The service has been a very welcome development, but I think we need to be aware of two factors in the coming year.
I am concerned that the prevalence of psychological harm may rise following recent overseas conflicts. Any increase in prevalence would clearly place additional demands on the limited capacity of the All-Wales Veterans’ Health and Wellbeing Service and could negatively impact on waiting times for interventions.
Furthermore, the Cross Party Group is conscious that awareness of the services provided by the NHS and the third sector to support Veteran mental health was poor, both amongst service users and providers. Raising awareness levels is going to be a key if services are to be effective and duplication of effort eradicated.
Simply put, we owe it to those who sacrifice so much for our country, to provide them with the very best services and support we can.
The Cross Party Group will continue to be a valuable forum in which to evaluate the success of services for Armed Forces personnel and Veterans in Wales. We look forward to celebrating Armed Forces Day on 29th June and continuing to be involved in planning for the commemorative activities associated with the centenary of the First World War.
Published: Wednesday 26 June 2013
© Copyright of Endeavour Public Affairs 2013
Photograph: © Darren Millar AM
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Endeavour Public Affairs or any of our clients.