Founded in 1919, this remarkable organisation has helped nearly 100,000 British veterans who have been profoundly traumatised by harrowing experiences during their Service careers.
Today, Combat Stress is as busy as it has ever been, due in no small part to our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan . We, as a nation, have increasingly come to understand that our brave Servicemen and women face incredibly difficult conditions while on operations, with the constant threat of being targeted by insurgents who will use both bullet and bomb to kill and maim. It has been so heartening to see people in this country increasingly backing military charities, many of which have been proactive in their help of the physically wounded.
The unique role which Combat Stress plays deserves our attention as well. The unseen injuries of war – the nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, depression, anger and guilt – in short, the psychological injuries, can render the sufferer incapacitated. And yet, for complex reasons, it takes, on average, 14 years after leaving the Services before veterans seek help.
Over the past five years, the charity has seen a 66 per cent increase in new referrals, with more than 1,000 new approaches in the past year alone.
Fourteen years is a very long time to suffer. Many veterans are at the end of their tether. Social isolation is common, alcohol and/or drug abuse is often seen as a refuge, and I am afraid that this downward spiral leads many to contemplate taking their own lives. The veterans who are currently being assisted by Combat Stress are typically those who have served in conflicts such as the Falklands, Northern Ireland , the first Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo. The impact of current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan may only be seen in the years to come.
Some young veterans are reaching out for help early – with four individuals under the age of 20 contacting Combat Stress this last year. However, the majority are men and women in their early 40s; former career soldiers with 10 years’ service, a third of whom are now unemployed. It is equally clear how much veterans’ families suffer too. Without professional help, many ex-Service families can find themselves torn apart by the effects of psychological injury.
And yet these wounds can be treated, just as physical injuries can be treated. Indeed, the sooner that veterans and their families receive appropriate support, the better the prognosis for all concerned; and Combat Stress is doing all it can to encourage them to come forward earlier and to be in a position to continue to help them.
This is why I am so pleased to be hosting a reception for Combat Stress at St James’s Palace today, as it launches the Enemy Within Appeal. The aim is to raise £30 million to develop the charity’s services. The appeal also hopes to raise awareness of the plight of veterans suffering from psychological injury: to reduce some of the stigma attached to these honourable wounds and to encourage our soldiers to seek help much earlier.
With money raised, Combat Stress will enhance its existing specialist residential treatment provision and establish much-needed, multi-disciplinary Community Outreach Teams so that veterans and their families can receive support and treatment in their local communities. This will mean that Combat Stress is able to respond rapidly to the veterans and their families who depend on our services.
My hope is that this appeal will enable Combat Stress to continue and develop its vital work for those veterans who are suffering from mental ill-health. I am sure we all share the view that these brave men and women must have access to the most appropriate form of help. Combat Stress is a remarkable charity carrying out truly remarkable work, which is needed now and in the distant future, long after the headlines from a particular conflict have faded and the world’s attention has moved on.
Visit the Combat Stress website to find out more.