In a speech in the Scottish Parliament, Dumbarton constituency MSP Jackie Baillie, praised veterans for their service and recognised that they were assets to their work places and communities. She specifically highlighted the lack of access to mental health services for army personnel and veterans. Across health boards, mental health services suffer from long waiting lists and staff shortages, but the MSP has called on the Scottish Government to invest in specialist services for conditions like PTSD.
The Scottish Government has endorsed the UK-wide ‘Strategy for our Veterans’ which aims to support service personnel and their families and ensure that they are not disadvantaged because they have served.
Service personnel often find the transition back to civilian life difficult, and while support is available across the country, for some, access to mental health services can be an important part of that journey.
“Our service personnel and their families make a huge contribution to communities right across the country. I was pleased to have the opportunity to pay tribute to the many service families living in Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Lomond during the debate.
“It is so important that specialist services are available to veterans when they need them, we must do all that we can to ensure that their transition back to civilian life is as smooth as possible.
“I hope that the Scottish Government will invest in mental health services, and specialist services for veterans in their upcoming budget.”
Notes to Editors
Full text of Jackie’s speech:
Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab):
As deputy convener of the cross-party group on the armed forces and veterans community, I am delighted that we have the opportunity today to have a debate—albeit that it is a short one—on the strategy for our veterans. It is a strategy that, as we know, was endorsed by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments just last month. It has, at its heart, recognition that service personnel and their families should not be disadvantaged by the very fact of their service, and that, where it is needed, special provision must be made to help those who have sacrificed most—those who have unfortunately been injured or bereaved.
I look forward to the Scottish Government working with key partners and, most important, with veterans themselves, because it is important that we learn from lived experience. That will progress consultation on implementation of the strategy in Scotland. As we have heard, the strategy touches on a host of devolved areas—housing, health, education, skills and employability, to name but a few.
I am very pleased that the strategy will build on the valuable work of the first veterans commissioner, Eric Fraser, and his successor, Charlie Wallace. They have already published a number of reports about the experience of veterans in Scotland, and have made a number of recommendations that I commend to the minister. I hope that he will look at them with a view to implementing them.
In the short time that I have available, I will focus on Labour’s amendment, which refers to
“specialist physical and mental health services”.
The Scottish Veterans Commissioner rightly noted that although priority has been given to healthcare for veterans, it is clear that we must not be complacent about the quality of services and the need to keep them under constant review.
I know that politicians like to talk about the postcode lottery that exists among health boards, but I have to say that there are also inconsistencies within heath boards. We can and should do much better. I think that everybody would agree that it is right that the people who have sacrificed most for their country deserve the best possible services and care. There are challenges in respect of our mental health services, including long waiting times, pressure on staffing and lack of sustainability. The challenges affect everyone—not just veterans. However, there is undoubtedly a requirement for specialist services, as my colleagues have said, for people who have severe and enduring problems as a result of their military service. Those services need to be developed and sustained, and they need to be provided not just in healthcare, but in social care.
I welcome the Government’s mental health action plan, which mentions veterans. I know that veterans experience challenging mental health problems as a result of their service. Some in my constituency have suffered, and continue to suffer, from PTSD, and I know that more could be done locally to support them. The Scottish Veterans Commissioner asked for a specific plan to tackle mental ill health among veterans. I ask the minister to consider that and to consider how we might remove barriers to accessing mental health services for veterans, how we deal with the persistent problem of the postcode lottery in services and how, in particular, we protect specialist PTSD services. I think that we would all acknowledge that funding for specialist mental health services is patchy, short term and insecure. I hope that the minister has had a conversation with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, and that he will address that issue in the budget next week.
Finally, members are right to acknowledge that veterans are an asset to their workplaces and their communities. I know from the veterans in Dumbarton, the Vale of Leven and Helensburgh what a fantastic contribution they make to our area. I thank them and all veterans for their service to our country. It is incumbent on us to repay that service by ensuring that their transition to civilian life is smooth and seamless.