True cost of Covid-19 pandemic on veterans' mental health

  • Video report by ITV News Midlands Correspondent Ben Chapman

An exclusive Help for Heroes’ survey has found a 50% increase in veterans saying they are not managing their mental health well compared to before the coronavirus pandemic started.

Ahead of Armed Forces Day on Saturday, ITV News was given an exclusive look at the survey conducted by the military charity of more than 1,000 wounded veterans and service personnel.

It looked at the impact of lockdown on vulnerable veterans with mental and physical health challenges and the true cost of the pandemic on those who served.

The Help for Heroes’ survey found:

  • 50% increase in those saying they are not managing their mental health well compared to pre-virus

  • 57% said lockdown has worsened their mental health

  • 66% are worried about the future and their mental health

Matt Neve says 'flashbacks' of his time serving in Iraq still haunt him now. Credit: ITV News

For veteran Matt Neve experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during lockdown has been like having something "inside" getting "tighter and tighter and tighter".

The RAF veteran says he finds himself having to manage his "anger" and "lashing out" at small things.

Serving in Iraq at just 18-years-old, part of Mr Neve's duties were to load dead and injured soldiers onto planes.

The "flashbacks" haunt him now - made worse by the inactivity of lockdown.

"Over the years I've attempted suicide many times. I attempted last year - that's how it can suddenly creep up on you from behind without expecting it".

"I have to be occupied all the time, doing something".

Mr Neve is now desperate to restart his therapy sessions - they were all cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis. He put this to Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Johnny Mercer MP, who said "there should not be a backlog" of access to therapy sessions.

Pressed on whether he was offering a "personal commitment" to ensure veterans are not facing "long delays" after the coronavirus crisis eases, Mr Mercer said: "Yes. This is a personal calling for me.

"If they feel that any of the services that I'm putting in place are not working then they need to let me know."

ITV News has been looking at suicides and the mental health of veterans since November 2018, when we spoke to Jo Jukes – the widow of a veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and took his own life in October 2018.

For years Ms Jukes lived with a war veteran husband suffering from worsening PTSD and acute depression - while desperately seeking help for him.

Dave and Jo Jukes on their wedding day. Credit: Family handout

The Help for Heroes' survey, which took place in May 2020, also found the impact of the pandemic on physical health, as 40% of respondents living with life changing injuries or health conditions reported having delays in assessing NHS treatment and services.

There has been a 48% increase in those not managing their physical health.

Nearly two-thirds of those affected (64%) said the delay in accessing NHS treatment and services impacted negatively on their mental health and more than half (59%) said it negatively affected their physical health.

And there were concerns from 34% of respondents who are unsure about assess to the NHS once the pandemic eases.

Nearly 47% of those who experienced delays to NHS services or treatment said they avoided seeking medical help due to anxiety caused by Covid-19.

Melanie Waters, CEO of Help for Heroes, said: “It is clear from our survey that veterans with physical and mental health needs are finding recent events challenging and need us as much as ever.”

The government has pledged £6 million of new funding announced for 100 military charities across the UK to support veterans and their families during the pandemic.

A consultation will be launched in July on employers paying no National Insurance contributions on the salary of any veteran they take on, during their first year of employment.

Under the plans announced in this year’s Budget, an employer taking on a veteran earning £25,000 could save around £2,000 in NICs.

What to do if you or someone you know needs help:

  • Help For Heroes' Hidden Wounds service provides free and confidential psychological wellbeing advice and support to eligible veterans and their families.

  • If you are in distress or need some support, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 116 123 or through their website.

  • Veterans' mental health charity Combat Stress is available 24 hours a day on 0800 138 1619 for veterans and their families, 0800 323 444 for serving personnel and their families, via text on 07537 404719, or through their website.

  • Veterans' charity SSAFA is available on 0800 731 4880 or through their website.

  • The Government's Veterans' Gateway offers advice and help for veterans seeking support and can be contacted on 0800 802 1212 or through the website.

  • Mind offers a helpline on 0300 123 3393 from 9am to 6pm.