By Kris Jepson
Researchers from Northumbria University, who have been commissioned by the Royal British Legion to look at why veterans are reluctant to seek or don't receive adequate support for alcohol misuse, warn there is a potential "ticking time bomb" that will see veterans from recent conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq hit "crisis point" in the coming years over drinking.
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The warning comes following an 18-month “ground-breaking” research study, which focused on interviews with 31 British veterans, including 20 who had alcohol issues, and six senior health and social care commissioners based in the North East.
Speaking exclusively to ITV News Tyne Tees the researchers urged health providers, including Clinical Commissioning Groups, NHS England and local authorities to work more collaboratively alongside the Ministry of Defence to understand and meet the unique needs of former British military personnel when it comes to alcohol dependency and misuse and to provide a more holistic support service.
These issues will be discussed next Friday in Gateshead at a special conference held by the Royal British Legion.
An MoD spokesperson told ITV News, “The majority of veterans make a smooth transition back to civilian life and manage social drinking in moderation, but we and the wider government are committed to ensuring that those who do experience difficulties, get the support they need.”
NHS England said similar research was carried out last year into the mental health of veterans. The findings were then used to help influence new provision which is being introduced in April.
- 15/20 veterans failed to get support for at least 17 years.
- The longest wait after service for help was 30 years.
- 4/20 received help up to 10 years after leaving service.
- 1/20 received help between 10-17 years after leaving service.
- The mean time for getting help was 18 years.
- 75% hit "crisis point" for homelessness
- 15% hit "crisis point" going through the criminal justice system.
The researchers have recommended consideration should be given for addictions services, for both veterans and the wider population, to be returned back into the health sector to bolster funding and resources, because, they say, local council's social care services do not have the resources to deal with the issue alone.
Corporal Semi Navuku served for the Royal Tank Regiment between 2003 and 2014. He fought in one tour of Iraq and three tours of Afghanistan. On his final tour one of his friends died in front of him. He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and turned to alcohol to self medicate.
Sergeant Major Stuart Wicks served for the Royal Corps of Transport between 1967 and 1992. He toured in Germany, Northern Ireland and during the aftermath of the Falklands. He said, for him, drinking was part of the job. It was 14 years into his second career as a police officer that he realised he had a problem with drink.
Alcohol addiction information and helplines:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (Helpline 0800 9177 650)
- Al-Anon Family Groups (Helpline 020 7403 0888)
- Alcohol Concern
- Health risks from alcohol - new guidelines (GovUK)
- NICE: diagnosis, assessment and management of harmful drinking and alcohol dependence