Military understanding needed to help war vets

Mental health services for armed forces veterans should be staffed by people with knowledge and understanding of the services, a University of Sheffield report has recommended.

The report outlines the results of a study of six pilot sites, which were launched by the Ministry of Defence in collaboration with the UK's Health Departments, in a bid to develop services led by the NHS which veterans are comfortable to access and use.

Experts at the university's Centre for Psychological Services Research, led by Professor Michael Barkham, evaluated and compared the results of the pilot studies, which each trialled new ways of providing mental health services to veterans.

The new methods allowed veterans to self-refer, focused on accurate assessment and diagnosis and provided access to a choice of mental health interventions.

Another important feature of the pilots was the development of a complementary network which provided veterans with wider social support and advice on housing, employment, training, volunteering, debt and benefits.

The findings showed that while the NHS can and does successfully engage with and treat veterans with mental health problems, it would be beneficial for ex members of the armed forces to be able to self-refer themselves to a service.

In addition, it was highlighted veterans prefer dealing with staff that have training and experience of working with ex-service personnel, due to the perception that civilian health professionals have little understanding of military lifestyle and challenges.

It is hoped that by highlighting the most effective ways to ensure veterans access the local mental health services available to them, the report may now help NHS bosses when they plan the provision of services in the future.

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