News archive 2003
What happens to people when they leave the armed forces?17 Sep 2003, PR 67/03
New study to discover what happens to people when they leave the armed forces
More information needs to be gathered to find out what happens to British Armed Forces personnel after they leave the Services, a study by King’s College London published today has found.
Almost everything known about service leavers comes from American literature with little systematic research about their British counterparts in the period between the Second World War and the 1991 Gulf War.
The King’s research team carried out interviews with key stakeholder organisations and a group of UK veterans themselves.
Simon Wessely, Professor of Epidemiology and Liaison Psychiatry, Department of Psychological Medicine, King’s College London says:
‘The results suggest that, for the great majority, service life is perceived as a largely positive experience. It may be that, as in the USA, military service is a great leveller, assisting those from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain social and economic security, but we must be cautious about extrapolating from the US data to the very different circumstances of UK society and its military.’
A number of important themes and areas of concern were also identified which can influence what happens to veterans after they leave the military.
Professor Wessely continues:
‘The dependency culture, which is an important, and perhaps essential part of an effective military, can lead to difficulties for some leavers who suddenly find that they are having to fend for themselves in civvy street. Drinking problems that develop during military service can also set a minority of individuals upon a path to social exclusion.’
Resettlement packages are generous and well received, but are not presently available to all, and a minority of service leavers excluded from resettlement (for example, those discharged for disciplinary offences) are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion.
Christopher Dandeker, Professor of Military Sociology, Department of War Studies at King’s College London, explains:
‘After leaving, a lack of joined-up service provision for all veterans can make it hard for leavers to locate and obtain the services to which they are entitled. The most common view we encountered was that the NHS is not currently meeting the mental health needs of unwell ex-service personnel. A general decline in knowledge about military affairs among people such as NHS doctors or Housing Officers who in a previous generation would have had direct experience of military service but no longer do so, compounds all the problems.’
The research team also were able to analyse data from a large representative military study that has been ongoing at King’s since 1997. This new research confirms that for the great majority of veterans, service life leads to a positive social outcome: 87 per cent of service leavers gained employment after leaving. However, the minority who did not gain employment fared badly overall. It is not possible to determine if these poor outcomes related to factors that predated military service, or were acquired as a result of service. This is being addressed in new work carried out at King’s.
As part of the same study, a telephone survey was carried out of those who appeared most vulnerable. These ‘at risk’ veterans identified depression and alcohol dependence as their most common mental health problems - post traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) was less common. Only half of those with problems were seeking help.
Professor Dandeker said:
‘The good news was that almost all those who wanted help were receiving support from their general practitioners, but less encouraging was the very small number receiving specialised psychological treatments from the NHS. This is a potential gap in service provision, since these treatments are known to be helpful. Veteran’s charities were appreciated, but only a minority were using them for advice or support.
‘Further research is needed to untangle the complex interactions of pre-military and military risk factors in post service social exclusion, to identify vulnerable leavers at an earlier stage, and to build up a picture of the benefits and risks of military life in the 21st century.’
Some of these issues are being addressed by a new long-term study funded by Ministry of Defence and carried out by King’s College London. The physical and psychological health of members of the Armed Forces involved in the Iraq conflict, as well as equal numbers of other service personnel who have deployed elsewhere, are being monitored.
Notes to editors
These studies (funded by the UK Ministry of Defence with contributions from other government departments) were co-led by Professors Simon Wessely and Christopher Dandeker. Other members of the team included Dr Amy Iversen of the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London and Mr John Ross of the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.
The studies are the result of a new collaboration between Psychological Medicine (Institute of Psychiatry) and the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. Both the Institute and Department of War Studies received the highest research rating of 5* in the latest (2001) Government Research Assessment Exercise.
King’s College London is one of the oldest and largest colleges of the University of London with some 13,400 undergraduate students and some 5,000 postgraduates in ten schools of study. The College had 24 of its subject-areas awarded the highest rating of 5* and 5 for research quality, demonstrating excellence at an international level. It is in the top group of five universities for research earnings and has an annual turnover of £320 million and research income from grants and contracts of some £90 million (2001-2002).
Melanie Gardner, Senior Public Relations Officer, King’s College London
Tel: 020-7848 3073 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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