Ladies and Gentlemen, we are all, of course, well aware of the incredible work of our Armed Forces, particularly in Afghanistan, where they operate in the most demanding and dangerous conditions. As I speak, many of our soldiers are now preparing for what will be their second or third six month tour to this region and once in theatre they will be forced to confront a defiant and determined enemy.
Our soldiers spend much of their time in the Green Zone, the very fertile and lush alluvial plain on the banks of the river Helmand. One minute they can be discussing the harvest with a local farmer and the next they can be embroiled in a ferocious, intense and brutal fire-fight with the Taliban. To me it seems that their courage and fortitude, commitment and sacrifice are unceasing and I am sure you will agree when I say that this nation owes them all a huge immense debt of gratitude.
The tragic loss of life in Afghanistan is well known and we are all aware of the terrible, life-changing physical injuries which many of our troops suffer from. What we know much less about are the psychological injuries which afflict our servicemen and women and that is why we are here today.
The scale of the problem is considerable. At Combat Stress we have seen a 66 per cent increase in Veterans seeking help over the last 4 years.
For many reasons we are, as a population, extremely reluctant to come forward and seek help for mental illness and it is well known that men are generally less likely to seek help than women.
Our experience shows that it is not until many of our veterans have been out of the Armed Forces for, on average, fourteen years that they are prepared to acknowledge their illness and do something about it. By then many will have reached a point in their lives when they can no longer cope with their affliction. We want our Appeal to raise the profile of psychological wounding so that those suffering, and their families, can recognize the symptoms and also understand that it is a normal response to abnormal or extraordinary events.
It is clear that we can expect a sustained and significant increase in the mental health care required by our veterans and, just as importantly, their families. What’s more, this demand will continue for many years after the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have drawn to a close. The figures which Dr Chai Patel has just mentioned seem to confirm this.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am extremely pleased to be able to tell you that Combat Stress has recently signed a strategic partnership with the Department of Health and the Ministry of Defence which recognises the new challenge facing Combat Stress and will enable the right approach to be taken. Our combined priority is that Veterans should be cared for by the right people at the right time and in the right place. We believe this place to be alongside their peers, and near to their homes whenever possible.
This Appeal, aptly named “the enemy within”, aims to raise £30million pounds which will allow us to set up a new and vital regional outreach programme. These multi-skilled, community outreach teams will provide professional clinical treatment and support to Veterans and their families in their communities, as well as referring those that need more intensive clinical care to our three centres of excellence.
The lead sponsors of this Appeal are the RAF Benevolent Fund, the Royal British Legion and our Appeal Chair who have all been extraordinarily generous. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have given Combat Stress the confidence to launch this appeal which we know will transform the lives of many veterans. But £30million is a huge challenge and it is vital that we raise this money.
So if you stand around in one place, you will have to be careful! I am so grateful that you have taken time out of your busy programmes to be with us this afternoon, and I hope, I hope that when you leave here you will take a moment to reflect on the work of this marvellous organisation, of which I am so proud to be patron, having followed in my Grand Mother’s footsteps, and its need for charitable donations.
It therefore gives me the greatest of pleasure to publicly launch the “Enemy Within Appeal”. Our Servicemen and women fight our wars. Now it’s our turn to join forces and help fight their battles.