Group backs campaign for change in law on military suicides – ‘There is help out there’

A group that provides vital support to South Yorkshire veterans has backed calls for a change in the law to help reduce the number of suicides among those who have served in the military.

Thursday, 21st February 2019, 15:08 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st February 2019, 15:13 pm
Ron Moffett. Picture: Marie Caley

A study by JPIMedia Investigations, a team of reporters from The Star's sister titles across the country, revealed that the Government does not monitor how many former service personnel take their own lives, amid fears that the number of cases is spiralling.

Allied nations like the US, Australia and Canada all record the number of veteran suicides closely, having found significant increases in the past decade.

Since the issue was highlighted, defence minister Tobias Ellwood announced the Government would begin a study into suicide rates among veterans who previously served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He also said in November that it was his ambition ‘to understand from every coroner whether an individual death is a veteran or not’.

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But a row has broken out at the heart of Government over the issue, with the Ministry of Justice claiming it was not feasible for coroners to record veterans’ suicides.

MPs on the Defence Select Committee have also been keenly pursuing the issue of military mental health, publishing their first report last July.

It recommended that the Ministry of Defence work with the justice departments across the four UK nations to work out, from existing suicide records, whether someone had been a veteran.

A second report by the committee, due to be published on Monday, is expected to further press the Government for progress.

Ron Moffett, chairman of the executive board of the Rotherham Military Community Veteran Centre, said: “It's really difficult because the data is not recorded so the first thing we get to know is when we're invited to the funerals.

“It’s very difficult for some veterans to adapt to civilian life. Ninety per cent of the people that leave the forces go back into civilian life and get on with their lives.

“But 10 per cent don’t and they are the people that we need to look out for and help.”

The MCVC runs a drop-in session at Silverwood Miners’ Welfare Club, Thrybergh, every Friday from 10am until noon as well as a breakfast club at the Toby Carvery, Eastwood, on Saturdays.

Mr Moffett said: “We run a signposting programme where if people are in need of help, we signpost them to the people that are are there for them. We would like to make people aware that there is help out there for them.”

Jeff Williams, a former Royal Marine Sergeant Major and campaigner with the Birmingham-based group Veterans Against Suicide, said he was ‘devastated’ to hear that the MoJ has ruled out support from coroners.

He said: “I am not surprised but I am pretty devastated because a lot of people in the veterans’ community have hung their hats on this happening.

"We were under the impression that this was in the late stages of being implemented and it wasn't going to be a problem."

His group has recorded the suspected suicide of five veterans and four serving members of the forces so far this year, with 80 former and current service personnel believed to have taken their lives in 2018.

It should be straightforward for coroners to ask families if their loved ones were veterans, he said. His organisation could verify ‘with one phone call’ whether someone had served or not.

He said: “This is just a cop-out in my opinion.”

The MoJ said it was too complex for coroners to record the suicides of veterans, in particular because of the potential difficulties of accurately establishing a victim’s occupational history.

"For this reason, there are no plans to require coroners to record this kind of information in the context of suicide conclusions,” a spokesperson said.

The MoD is considering how to respond to the setback.

An MoD spokeswoman replied: “We take the wellbeing of all those who have served extremely seriously and we are considering how we can better understand the cohort of veterans who take their own lives.”