Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a matter of great pride, as Patron, to be with you on this very special occasion and I am so grateful to you all for being here today to support this remarkable charity which provides such a vital service to our Armed Forces and Veterans.
Back in 2003, I took over the patronage of this splendid organization from my darling Grandmother who, as some of you will no doubt be aware, was Patron for 60 years of what then used to be called the Armed Forces Mental Welfare Society and always spoke very fondly of Combat Stress.
I have to say that I have been astounded by how this organization has continued to develop over the last six years, earning its well-deserved reputation as a “front line” charity, second-to-none in this field. Since 1919, the charity has helped more than 100,000 veterans.
As I am sure you all know, it was set up on behalf of British Veterans in the aftermath of the First World War in order to deal with Post Traumatic Stress, depression and anxiety, known in those days simply as “shell shock”. I am sad to say that the demands placed on this wonderful charity continue to grow.
I need hardly say that the enormous load placed on our Armed Forces, who have been operating for some time now in the harshest of conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, will inevitably create a new generation of Servicemen and women who will seek help from Combat Stress. It is said that since returning from what was a short yet brutal fight to liberate the Falkland Islands in 1982, more of our ex-servicemen have killed themselves than died in the fighting. We must not let this terrible waste of life continue, for the sake of our servicemen and their families. Ladies and Gentlemen, we cannot begin to imagine the pain, despair and loneliness which leads to such a desperate act and the impact it must have on their loved ones.
This terrible statistic, I believe, illustrates so clearly not only the debilitating effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but also the vital importance of Combat Stress. I became only too aware of the problems through the experiences of those serving in the regiments of which I am Colonel-in-Chief and through the South Atlantic Medal Association, of which I am Patron. In addition, through visiting homeless hostels and centres throughout the UK I was shocked to discover at the time that some 22 per cent of all homeless people were ex-servicemen. To try and deal with this, I established an initiative through Business in the Community called ‘Project Compass’ and, although not enough, this has resulted in one hundred and twenty two ex-servicemen being helped back into employment and accommodation as a result of very enlightened companies, such as KPMG, being prepared to work with us. I am delighted to say that owing to the labours of various charities and organizations in this field, the number of homeless ex-servicemen was down to 10 per cent by 2007.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sure you will all agree with me that the work of Combat Stress is as relevant today as it has ever been. This year, one thousand two hundred and fifty seven new cases were referred to Combat Stress and among its patients are three veterans from the ongoing Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. If the figures from the Falklands conflict are anything to go by, I fear there may be many more.
Today we commemorate 90 years of loyal and caring service, as well as the immense dedication and generosity of all those who have supported Combat Stress. As part of this commemoration, I would like to use this opportunity to launch a new appeal to raise twenty million pounds over the next three years. This will allow us to develop our vital community outreach programme, providing support to veterans and just as importantly, their families. Your support, ladies and gentlemen, will make such a difference in relieving the suffering of our ex-servicemen and women who have carried out their duty in far-flung fields on behalf of this country.