'The war zone is in the camp' - Salute Her UK says more support needed for women veterans

Salute Her UK says many women feel unable to access services dominated by men. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

A charity says more support is needed for female military veterans who find it difficult to access services dominated by men.

Salute Her UK supports around 5,000 women aged between 17 and 78, many of whom have suffered sexual abuse during their time in service.

It means many of the women feel unable to access other charities aimed at veterans because most of them are run and accessed by mainly men.

Paula Edwards, chief executive of the charity, who is based in Wallsend, on North Tyneside, said: "Over half of those women have been sexually assaulted or raped in the military by someone they trusted.

"They often have significant traumatic memories related to that event and the trauma they have sustained ripples into every part of their lives.

"It can impact their relationships, employment, family life, being able to manage money and being able to have a quality of life.

"The most significant impact is not being able to trust services and ask for help."

Paula Edwards is chief executive of Salute Her UK, a charity providing support for female veterans. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Salute Her UK was founded by Tony Wright in 2017 when he realised women were less likely to access service charities.

Its services have been developed to address the needs of military women transitioning to civilian life and provides help with physical and mental wellbeing, relationships and wider social issues.

Ms Edwards added: "Their trauma and mental health impacts on their psychology so much and people don't understand or realise the trauma they've gone through when they were serving in the military.

"Many women feel like the war zone is in the camp and it's with comrades who are meant to be their brothers and sisters.

"From a women's perspective and the women we work with, they tell us that they don't come forward asking for help and support because a lot of the military charities out there are run by men and there's a high population of men who access those services and women don't feel safe.

"They feel incredibly isolated, forgotten, invisible and like they don't have a voice."

The charity worker spoke out as a survey of more than 3,000 veterans, both male and female, found the majority found it difficult to ask for help regarding mental health issues.

More than half said they had, or have previously had, a mental health condition.

A survey of veterans found the majority found it difficult to ask for help regarding mental health issues. Credit: PA

The NHS runs a service for all veterans called Op Courage, which allows current and former service people to get help without a referral from a GP.

The service received about 4,500 referrals between April and November last year.

Veteran support is also now included in training for GPs.

Dr (Colonel Retired) Jonathan Leach, medical director of Military and Veterans Health NHS England, said: "What we've been trying to do is reduce the barriers to speed this up and in particular before they develop problems with alcohol or drugs or lose a job.

"The longer people leave it, it's a bit like if you treat a cancer later its more difficult and the success rates are lower."

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) said it has a zero tolerance approach to unacceptable sexual behaviour and is planning to launch its first women's veterans' strategy this spring.

An MOD spokesperson said: “Unacceptable behaviours have no place in the Armed Forces and we are committed to stamping them out.

“We encourage anyone who has experienced or witnessed this kind of inexcusable behaviour to report it immediately and all claims are investigated by an independent team.

“We have established the Defence Serious Crime Command and Victim Witness Care Unit to provide specialist support to victims and witnesses of serious crime, independently from the military chain of command.”

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