As the nation gears up mark to the 75th anniversary of VE Day, the NHS wants all those who have served their country to know that dedicated help and support is still available despite the coronavirus outbreak.
One of its top doctors has also today payed tribute to the many veterans who are working as ‘hidden heroes’ in the NHS’s efforts to tackle the virus.
To date the world-leading services have improved the lives of thousands of former services personnel supporting their physical and mental health needs for those who struggle with civilian life, some of whose stories are set out below.
While a growing number of veterans have been referred for help year-on-year, latest data indicates a drop in the number of people reaching out to specialist services in April.
But despite the coronavirus outbreak help is still available and has been adapted to offer more digital services, including video consultations with psychotherapists and support by phone, in response to social distancing rules and travel restrictions in place.
The NHS lead for armed forces’ health has today issued a timely call urging veterans to seek help as dedicated services remain open for business.
Kate Davies CBE, Director of Armed Forces at NHS England and NHS Improvement, said: “This weekend’s VE Day commemorations are a reminder of the remarkable difference our armed forces have made to our country throughout history and the contribution they continue to make today on the NHS frontline in the fight against coronavirus.
“At a time when we are facing significant uncertainty and long periods of isolation which can be particularly worrying, it has never been more important for veterans to reach out if they need support– help is available – with new digital offers which ex-personnel are already benefiting from.”
The NHS is committed to making sure that every veteran gets the best possible support for their physical and mental health with dedicated services available for those who struggle with civilian life including targeted mental health services for veterans.
These include the NHS Veterans' Mental Health Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service (TILS), which identifies and treats mental health needs early, and the NHS Veterans' Mental Health Complex Treatment Service (CTS), which gives intensive support to those with military-related complex mental health concerns not improved by earlier care and treatment.
Since the TILS service was launched in April 2017 it has had over 11,000 referrals up to May 2020, while there have been almost 1,500 CTS referrals in total up to April 2020.
Both offer local community-based support ranging from therapeutic treatment for complex challenges or trauma, to help meeting wider needs that can have an impact on mental health, such as physical health, employment, housing, finances, social relationships and drug and alcohol misuse.
Case studies: veterans who have benefitted from NHS support
Jeff Walsh, 62 – based in the Midlands
Jeff says: “It took 9 months of counselling before I could react to others better, deal with problems and live as normal a life as possible while coping with PTSD.” Jeff is now working on the front line for the ambulance service to support COVID-19 efforts. He continues to have regular contact by phone and email with his counsellor.
Role within the military: RAF dog handler
Derek Taylor, 41 – based in the Midlands
Derek says: “I have been supported by the service and it has helped me massively during these hard times of COVID-19. Having been referred to a psychologist, I have had regular contact and it makes life much easier knowing there is someone there on your side. As I was self-employed, I lost my income and had no way of supporting my family, but my psychologist has put me in touch with SSAFA, the Veterans Contact Point and the Poppy Factory who have helped me to move forward. It’s a great service and well needed for those that have served our country.”
Role within the military: Warrior Commander
Scott Ison, 33 – based in the Midlands
Scott says: “The service has been very supportive to me, particularly during the coronavirus outbreak when my PTSD has flared up. I have always felt that my therapist has been there for me; I was referred to Warwickshire Shield and Head Start to start therapy for my PTSD and I’ve been supported to attend veteran Breakfast clubs and receive food parcels.”
Role within the military: Army Medic
Veterans who have been deployed to support COVID-19
Richard Fawcett, 37 – based in Stoke
Richard says: “I am currently working as an emergency medicine consultant at the major trauma centre, Royal Stoke University Hospital. Using lessons learnt from the Ebola crisis and skills I have acquired from my military training, I have been able to support staff and improve staff and patient safety during these difficult and uncertain times.
I also work for the Midlands Air Ambulance and West Midlands Ambulance Service as a Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) doctor, bringing the emergency room to the roadside to treat severely sick and injured patients and get them safely to hospital. In this job I am using skills I developed from my time in the Army reserves, where I treated sick and injured patients on the back of a chinook helicopter after picking them up off the front lines of the battlefield.”
Role within the military: Medical Officer
Lynne Davidson, 45 – based in Rugby
Lynne says: “I served in the Royal Navy for 12 years, first as a chef and then as a mental health nurse. I am now working as the regional lead for West Midlands TILS and my role within the COVID-19 pandemic has involved ensuring that the TILS service continues whilst staff work from home and offering the service remotely to our veterans and their families. I have also been involved in supporting local acute hospitals and well as our own Mental Health Trust to arrange and deliver the appropriate psychological support to those on the frontline.”
Role within the military: Lynne joined the Royal Navy as a chef and then became a mental health nurse.