Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Veterans entering the Criminal Justice System

Last night's BBC 2 Newsnight item highlighting the issue of veterans entering the Criminal Justice System is to be welcomed. Estimates’, suggesting that between 3% and 8% of the prison population are veterans is a damning indictment of our failure to understand and care for those who have put their lives on the line for our country. With the intensity in operations in Afghanistan expected to continue for at least the next 5 years, the situation will undoubtedly become worse, well beyond the time of withdrawal. More service personnel will end up suffering from various levels of mental illness and stress, the impact of which their families and local communities will have to cope with.

When funeral cars pass through Wootton Bassett, many people travel long distances to be there, demonstrating their support to families of the dead men and their deep appreciation for what their sons, husbands, brothers and friends gave; the ultimate sacrifice. Similarly, millions of pounds have been given to help those suffering with horrific physical injuries caused by bombs and IEDs. Whilst these reactions are to be applauded, many others suffering with serious mental trauma and stress are not being sufficiently recognised and supported.

Mental illness of course is something that is not easily understood. Unlike physical injuries, it cannot be seen. Many people may not be aware that following the Falklands campaign, of those who participated in the operation, more have subsequently committed suicide than were killed during the fighting. This is another example of how the anticipated intensity of operations in Afghanistan is likely to impact upon many more of our military men and women in the future.

Unless addressed, the associated costs in health, unemployment benefits, family breakdown and the Justice system will continue to rise. It is beholden upon society to recognise the impact that recent conflicts have had upon our veterans and their families; they too need and deserve our care and support. Criminalising them and locking them up in prison is not an appropriate way of acknowledging the personal sacrifices which they have made.