Veterans’ Health & Wellbeing in Scotland – Are We Getting it Right?

The Scottish Veterans Commissioner has published a short report on key health issues for the veterans community, entitled Veterans’ Health & Wellbeing in Scotland – Are We Getting it Right?

Eric Fraser CBE has used four questions as the starting point for his research and widespread engagement, and has published this ‘thought-piece’ to initiate a debate in order to elicit responses and ideas from the many health professionals, officials, charities and veterans who are affected by, and understand, these issues.

The questions he uses in the report are:

Are the health outcomes of our veterans population as good as they can be?

Do veterans face any disadvantages when accessing health and social care provision?

Does the health system properly fulfil our obligations to those veterans with the most severe and enduring illnesses and injuries acquired as a result of their military service?

Are the needs of our veterans population properly understood and considered by those who work in health and social care?

Despite the public misconceptions on the topic, veterans’ health is largely comparable to that of the general public. Even with regards to mental health, the assumption often made that veterans are disproportionately at risk of ill mental health is not supported by the evidence.

The Veterans Commissioner makes no recommendations within the publication but makes conclusions on the following key issues:

  • The vast majority of veterans in Scotland are in relatively good health and lead happy and productive lives.
  • On those occasions when they need access to health or social care services, they rarely report obvious disadvantage when compared to the non-veterans population and are content with the support they receive.
  • There remains a strong moral case for ensuring that the risks faced, and the sacrifices made, by Service personnel in protecting us are properly recognised and that all those who suffer injury or illness as a result are cared for appropriately. The Armed Forces Covenant and the Scottish Government’s Renewing Our Commitments are central to ensuring this happens.
  • Veterans and family members with the most severe and enduring illnesses and conditions that have arisen from their military service deserve the best possible treatment, care and support. This should be our highest priority.
  • Scotland is fortunate to have some outstanding statutory and charitable services that provide much needed specialist treatment, care and support for the small number of veterans who have given so much and suffer the most serious and life-changing illnesses and/or injuries.
  • The provision of these specialist services and the principles of the covenant must be protected for both current and future generations of veterans. Decision-makers must also plan strategically to prepare for the longer-term needs of this community, including for current service users as they grow older.
  • For the wider veterans community, there is still more that can be done to improve their overall health outcomes. Much of this is likely to involve relatively minor administrative and procedural changes, greater emphasis on prevention and better understanding of veterans and their needs. This is also likely to be in line with the overall approach taken by the NHS in Scotland.
  • Perhaps more controversially, there needs to be an open debate about the concept of ‘priority treatment’ and whether the current emphasis on waiting lists provides a meaningful measurement of its efficacy. My growing conviction is that this may no longer be valid and I see far greater benefit from focusing on the principles of excellent, accessible and sustainable treatment and care for all veterans. I want to be clear that in concluding this, I am absolutely not advocating any lessening of the provision for veterans; in fact, quite the contrary.

To read the report in full, click here.