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New Queen’s report calls for more support for Armed Forces Families

Queen’s University Belfast UK Veteran’s Family Study

Families of ex-Service personnel need to be consistently identified, recognised, and supported according to a new report by Queen’s University Belfast and King’s College London.


This is the largest study on the families of UK veterans, funded by Forces in Mind Trust. It found that partners and children of ex-Service personnel are often strongly impacted by military service, yet can struggle to access support.



Partners and children of ex-Service personnel may be impacted by the nature of Service life, including frequent moves and family separation, but do not get the same recognition as the serving person or veteran by policy makers or those delivering services to the Armed Forces community.


The majority of veteran families who participated in this study reported positive health and wellbeing outcomes in general.  However, the report identified that some families would benefit from additional support, including families of those ex-Service personnel who have been rapidly discharged from Service for a medical or disciplinary reason. These families were more often negatively affected during their transition from military life, due to the lack of time to plan and prepare for civilian life.



A minority of families of ex-Service personnel also reported experiencing financial worries during transition – reporting that the military can leave Service personnel and families unprepared to financially plan for their future in civilian life. Significant living costs such as accommodation can be taken before Service personnel are paid, which can mask the real cost of living for many families.


However, most veteran families described themselves as either “doing well” or “getting by”.


The research found that there was a strong sense of belonging amongst families of ex-Service personnel in relation to the Armed Forces Community. Families recognised the importance of a support network of people who have shared similar experiences and valued the community’s continued existence into post-Service life.



The researchers published their findings after surveying over 700 partners and adult children (18 years and over) of ex-Service personnel, as well as conducting in-depth interviews with 71 members of families of ex-Service personnel. 165 of these participants were from Northern Ireland (NI).


The key findings from the Northern Irish participants in the study were:


  • Loneliness was high across participants from all nations but the highest rates were in NI veterans.

  • Wellbeing scores for veterans were high across all nations, but the lowest of these scores were from those surveyed in Wales and NI, compared to veterans surveyed in England.

  • For adult children in NI, their current experiences of anxiety were linked to concerns about their parents’ safety, as well as own experiences, during the Troubles. The impact of the Troubles on the children of serving parents in NI was quite profound – it includes security concerns and fears of social alienation, anxiety over their parents' safety, issues with trust/anxiety in adulthood and learning to manage their parents' PTSD-related distress.

  • In exploring difficulties in civilian life after transition from the military, partners of NI veterans experienced increased difficulties with mental health, financial issues, family issues, and feelings of isolation. To a lesser extent, many reported difficulties accessing health services, and increased security concerns. 



To address the issues faced by families of ex-Service personnel the report made a number of recommendations including:


  • Consistent definitions of family members within and across public services including the NHS.

  • Development of alternative ways of identifying and connecting families into services.

  • Better signposting and clearer public information for how families can access support.


Professor Chérie Armour, Professor of Psychological Trauma & Mental Health from the School of Psychology at Queen’s, on behalf of the research team, said:


“This research is the largest study on the families of UK veterans conducted to date. Along with important findings on health and wellbeing, including the strengths of veteran families, we have made key recommendations for research, policy, and practice. These include greater identification of veteran families where possible, and greater specificity in policies relating to the wellbeing of veteran families, which focus on a range of issues including improving financial literacy and optimising support services.



“We believe that support provided to the UK Armed Forces community must regard families and their needs as being equal to that of veterans and Serving personnel and worthy of support in their own right.”


Michelle Alston, Chief Executive of Forces in Mind Trust, said:


“We know that the challenges and opportunities of military life do not affect the serving person alone and that the family provides a significant, but an often unrecognised, contribution to Defence. However, the needs of the family members can be overlooked, which is why this research – the first UK wide study on the health and wellbeing of veterans’ families – provides welcome evidence and understanding of some of the unique issues they may face.

 

“We urge the Ministry of Defence to recognise the need to provide clearer information and support for families on health and wellbeing within the Armed Forces Families Strategy, to not only support families during their service but also to enable a successful transition into a fulfilling civilian life.”


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