Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so very glad to be with you all this evening in order to recognize the remarkable contribution made by Combat Stress over the past one hundred years.
When I was asked to become Patron of this Charity over sixteen years ago, I was immensely proud to follow in the footsteps of my beloved Grandmother – although I doubt very much whether I will manage to match her sixty years of Patronage! Like my Grandmother, however, I recognize just how important a service Combat Stress provides for our Veteran community.
Thousands of Servicemen returned from the First World War suffering from a condition which was then termed ‘Shell Shock’ – but what we now know as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The founders of Combat Stress – then known as the Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare Society - took the initiative in May 1919, believing that rehabilitation programmes could help Veterans to address their mental health issues.
However, I am sure that even they did not anticipate that the Charity they created would still be needed a century later, nor that the world would be plunged into conflict so soon after the ‘War to end all Wars’.
In more recent conflicts, Combat Stress has provided support and advice to Service personnel who were deeply affected by the Falkland Islands Conflict of 1982; the harrowing images of the Welsh Guards in R.F.A. SIR GALAHAD, and the devastation wrought on H.M.S. SHEFFIELD are but two examples of how conflict changes lives forever. And it was the aftermath of that conflict in the South Atlantic – and the fact that not only one of my oldest friends from my time in the Royal Navy, the late Surgeon Captain Rick Jolly, had been in charge of the Field Hospital in the Falklands Islands, that I had also become Patron of The South Atlantic Medal Association – which then drew my attention to the full extent of the problem.
For many who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the effects have been just as profound. Seventeen per cent of those in a combat role reported symptoms of P.T.S.D. – which is an extraordinarily high proportion, even compared with former campaigns.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, this evening is not so much about recognizing the achievements of the past, as highlighting the challenges of the future. Indeed, the demands on Combat Stress continue to grow: the number of veterans seeking help has doubled over the last ten years.
Paradoxically, much of this is positive: the awful stigma our society may have previously attached to mental health issues has, thankfully, given way to a more positive and caring attitude, and Veterans are more confident in coming forward to seek help. The Armed Forces have made a concerted effort in this regard and so, I am proud to say, have both my sons.
Nevertheless, the challenge we face is greater than ever before and, as a Nation, we have a collective duty to support these Veterans and facilitate their recovery – just as we have done in the past.
Right now, Combat Stress has more demand for its services than it can meet, and that is why we are here today. The mission of Combat Stress is to be there for every veteran who seeks their help, so that they can get the right care, at the right time, and in the right place.
It gives me great pleasure, therefore, to launch the ‘At Ease’ Appeal. Through this Appeal, we shall be able to introduce new services and innovative treatments that will be accessible to more Veterans than ever before.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it simply remains for me to thank you all very much indeed for coming here this evening, and to say that I sincerely hope that you will join us in our mission positively to change the lives of those Veterans who have given so much, but who so badly need our help.