Every week I speak to veterans across the country about what we’re doing in government to make this the best place in the world to be a veteran.
While in the past, services for veterans have often been lacking, now, under this Prime Minister, what it feels like to be a veteran is being fundamentally transformed.
Over the last year we have seen £5m given to fund new healthcare innovations, a commitment to end veteran homelessness this year through Op Fortitude, including through a substantial investment in housing, and a new dedicated health pathway for the physical needs of veterans, called Op Restore. This will run alongside the dedicated veterans mental health pathway, Op Courage. And today’s Autumn Statement will also see more stepped up support for our veterans, with £10 million for mental health services, including those who are homeless, isolated or elderly.
Sometimes in my conversations with veterans though, I hear frustration that the services that our ex-military are trying to access, can be too complicated, confusing and too slow.
Whether it’s finding out about employment and skills, accessing healthcare, or looking for information on their Armed Forces pension, finding your way around the network of support services can be challenging.
So that’s why, for the first time we asked an independent review to look back and take stock on the totality of veteran support available and look at how we can make it more effective and efficient.
Today (Tuesday 21st Nov) I updated the House of Commons on how we will take improvements forward, accepting most of the review’s recommendations.
The first major change is that the Veterans UK brand will be phased out and retired next year, with a replacement to be announced in due course. Many great staff work very hard delivering welfare services for veterans under this banner, but they have sometimes been held back by old fashioned processes. I know this has caused frustration in the veteran community and so we’ll deliver an improved service for them.
So this change marks a vital step forward in better communicating the variety of services that the Ministry of Defence provides to not only veterans, but those in the military, their families and the bereaved community. The MOD’s digitisation programme, backed by £40 million in government funding, will also improve the services available to veterans.
Second, to provide clarity on the roles and responsibility for veterans affairs, the word “Veterans” will be removed to the Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families - now renamed Minister for Defence People and Families. This will further help veterans and stakeholder groups know that the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, which I head up, is responsible for coordinating veterans policy across government.
And thirdly, we will improve the Veterans Gateway, which over one million veterans have already used to access support. The OVA is leading a project to refresh the Gateway, and we are already working with veterans on trials to make this service better.
These changes – which we are making a start on now – will help veterans’ services become more effective, efficient and clear. I am focused on making the right changes which will benefit all veterans across the UK, step by step.