Over the past 10 months I have people tell me I’m brave or strong, but what does that really mean? You have no choice but to face things head on and if you feel that you have a voice to lend it to a cause that has directly affected you. I am not perfect, I do not know everything there is to know, all I have is life experience, a relatively good brain and the ability to articulate. I am no different to you or anyone else. My point is everyone who has been affected by something can make changes.
As I’ve said in my previous blogs, Dave and I have no family so we only had each other and the girls. I feel it is my duty to be a good example to my daughters that if something is wrong, you stand up and be counted, even if it means you stand alone. I have faced my darkest days alone, so that doesn’t faze me.
However, the time for talking about the issues that affect today’s veterans is long gone. There’s been too much talking and too much time wasted, resulting in too many deaths. There is a mental health crisis in the Military community, there has been for a long time, but the only way we can deal with this is by being honest and dealing with it.
I have always been confused as to why there was such an emphasis on the Coroners listing suicides, because from a family perspective this isn’t always what people want. Yes it will help those fighting the cause, but the needs of those left behind come before any campaign. For social and financial reasons some families will not want their loved ones death listed as a suicide. There is no getting away from the fact that suicide still carries a stigma, it still causes issues within those left behind. There are insurance policies that will not pay out if the cause of death is suicide. The reality of being a widow is that you are literally left with the same financial commitments you had before the death, but one your own. You have a funeral to pay for and a home to keep for your children. If, by accepting a suicide verdict, that means your home will be in jeopardy, would you accept it?
I’m lucky?, Dave left 79 p in his pocket with no insurance and not really much of a pension. The only amount you receive from the Government is £100 a month for 18 months, based on their National Insurance contributions. While it may be crass to talk about the finances of suicide, it does make the grief even harder to handle because on top of dealing with that trauma, you also have to worry about your ability to keep your head above water. If you don’t have sickness pay or bereavement pay that is also another layer to add on top. I took 4 months off after Dave died, I wasn’t mentally capable of even getting up in the morning, but it cost me financially. It makes you feel so angry at them for leaving you with so much to sort out and to handle.
Getting back to the subject, why isn’t there a running record of those who have or are serving who are under mental health care? This could then be updated if they go into crisis and if they take their lives. Surely this is much more reliable than putting the onus on inquests, which can take up to a year to happen. It takes the onus away from the families to fight for their loved one to be recognised as a Military suicide. If we want to make sure that we are funding the mental health care of veterans correctly, surely this makes more sense?
There also needs to be a national strategy for veterans mental health care, the very make up of the NHS and it’s funding creates a postcode lottery. If you live in a well funded area you are much more likely to survive PTSD. However, if you live in an area that doesn’t have the same pathways or access to charities, then your chances of having access to dedicated services is less likely.
If you broke your back, and your local hospital wasn’t a specialist in that area, they would transfer you to a national centre that specialises in treating you, but with veterans mental health that doesn’t happen. If there is a model that is working, then that should be used in every area of the Country or there should be access to it. How do you think it feels to know that if you lived in a different area your spouse, son or daughter would have had more chances of surviving their PTSD crisis? Did this apply when they all fought in the same wars, no matter where they were from? If we truly want to respect the sacrifice our Armed Forces and their families make then the system they encounter after they leave needs to be the same wherever they decide to re-settle.
There are boundless veterans and families who would willingly lend their voice and expertise to the creation of a national strategy, however the NHS will always be a fundamental part of this. Veterans ( unless trained) are not qualified to give counselling or talking therapies, but they are capable of helping to shape and contribute to the well being of their brothers and sisters in arms. They are the service users, they have the experience that is vital to create a collaborative working partnership with the NHS. Charities cannot do it alone and neither can the NHS.
It has to be said that breaking into this line of work is almost impossible though. Yes there are charities who offer jobs, and if you really want to be part, you have to work full time at it. However, the wages offered by charities are not nearly enough, for understandable reasons, to allow people to venture into this line of work. Instead, an army of volunteers are trying their best to do what they can.
Recently, a mother told me that someone told her ‘she must have done alright’ out of the exposure she gave to her son’s suicide. The common misconception is that, if you put your head above the parapet and have articles or interviews you are being paid. I want to set the record straight that you are not. I do not know of any family who has ever received anything, no matter how many hours they have dedicated to the cause. However, they do need to eat, they do have a roof to put over their heads so the shame in thinking that in order to get dedicated people to help shape veterans mental health care, means they have to juggle full time jobs and volunteer is a fantasists point of view. The reality of life is everyone needs to earn a wage. There is no shame in this and there shouldn’t be any one-up-man-ship regarding those who get paid and those who volunteer. I would want nothing more than to work full time within veterans mental health, but I cannot afford to volunteer, I have not been left in the financial position to be able to do that and I am not ashamed of that.
My message is: only collaborative working with both the NHS and veterans can help to produce a system that actually works, across the country, with a national pathway. That will be your legacy.
These words are from a blog post by Jo Jukes on