“The first duty of Government is the defence of the realm. Our Armed Forces fulfil that responsibility on behalf of the Government, sacrificing some civilian freedoms, facing danger and, sometimes, suffering serious injury or death as a result of their duty. Families also play a vital role in supporting the operational effectiveness of our Armed Forces. In return, the whole nation has a moral obligation to the members of the Naval Service, the Army and the Royal Air Force, together with their families. They deserve our respect and support, and fair treatment.“THE ARMED FORCES COVENANT
There are approximately 237,000 veterans living in Scotland today. The figures for Orkney are not known but could be as many as 1000. The veterans comprise those who served in World War 2 right up to present day service. It is by its very nature an extremely diverse group with a range of needs.
The Scottish Government is committed to making Scotland the destination of choice for those who leave the services and their families. Scottish Government support for Veterans and the Armed Forces Community in Scotland
It lists the current national achievements as:
- Creating in 2008 a Scottish Veterans Fund which has committed over £1 million to more than 140 projects.
- £5 million to ensure that veterans in receipt of social care in Scotland will now get the full value of their war pensions
- The independent Scottish Veterans Commissioner in place to August 2018
- Establishing a Veterans Employability Strategic Group.
- Capitalising on Military Talent: a toolkit to help employers understand the skills of veterans
- A veterans portal on mygov.scot. with a dedicated housing section.
- Supporting the Veterans First Point services network and investing in mental health services.
- Producing guide for Local Authorities in Scotland
Locally, in Orkney, the council signed up in 2012 to The Community Covenant. The Armed Forces Community Covenant is made between: The serving and former members of the Armed Forces and their families working and residing in Orkney , Orkney Community Planning Partnership and Other members of the civilian community.
The key element of the covenant is working together through raising awareness about the needs of veterans and their families. It also includes a commitment to Orkney Firm Base, a partnership which has existed since 2011. For Orkney Islands Council this is “the main vehicle for exchange of knowledge in matters relating to veterans”.
David McArthur, Director of Nursing, Midwifery and AHPs is also the Executive Lead for veterans in NHS Orkney. He has a distinguished career in the army bringing his service experience to a range of work with public bodies. He is currently a reservist with Army Medical.
David McArthur encourages veterans in Orkney to identify themselves as such when they register with a GP.
” all serving personnel and their families based in Scotland now have a Community Health Index number to facilitate access to the full range of NHS treatment and services whenever they are required.“ScotGov
This is entirely up to the individual whether or not they wish to do this but it does mean that service attributable injuries will go through a faster referral system.
“Subject to the clinical needs of all patients, veterans continue to be entitled to priority NHS treatment and services for health problems which were sustained as a result of serving their country. “ScotGov
The advantages to veterans for identifying themselves as such when registering with a GP is that it can also flag up other support mechanisms and advice available. For instance if they have an attributable injury they can be given advice and support for making a claim for a disability pension . Veterans UK
Neither the council nor NHS Orkney have a training programme for staff dealing with veteran issues. Orkney Islands Council believes that there are very few recent veterans in Orkney who might be in need of acute medical or social support.
“Most of our veterans are older people and their first port of call tends to be the Royal British Legion Scotland. RBLS will refer individuals to any public services which might be of assistance to them, and vice versa. We are also well connected with Veterans Scotland.”
“We do not anticipate much change from the present low level of demand. Our challenge is in demographic change more generally, and the high proportion of older people living in Orkney. Some of these people will be veterans but this will not affect service provision which is always person-centred, i.e. the fact that somebody is a veteran will only become an issue if it affects the services which that person requires.”
Both NHS Orkney and OIC state that the main thing veterans can do to support the work of all those involved with providing services and support would be to identify themselves as a veteran:
” as this can increase the scope to access support from third sector agencies catering for veterans. Veterans are also sometimes entitled to a higher priority in accessing certain public services, e.g. a higher priority on the housing waiting list.” (OIC)
This also includes veterans from other nations who have served their country and who are now resident here.
Orkney is seen as a safe and peaceful community for veterans to settle in. David McArthur considers it a place where ‘there is a respect for service‘ with a close community but that for those few who have mental health issues it can be challenging especially on very small islands where it could be more possible to become isolated. He feels that ‘the core values of the Armed Forces fits with the Orkney community…..looking after one another and working with others.’
For the future, although there is no integrated support package for veterans in Orkney, David McArthur sees a requirement for cohesion and a pulling together but that this must not be a top down approach. It must come from the veterans and their voluntary organisations with perhaps a role for Voluntary Action Orkney in co-ordinating it. It is an opportunity but must be led by the veterans themselves.
One place where veterans can meet together in an informal setting is the Orkney Veterans Breakfast Club which takes place on the last Saturday of the month at Eats N’ Treats, Victoria Street, Kirkwall.
Check out their Facebook page or the articles in The Orkney News about it.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame