Remembering veterans – and helping them cope with challenges

Today is an important day as we remember the many sacrifices made by generations of military veterans.

I’m proud to say that our own Chief Constable James Vaughan will be leading this morning’s Civilian Services Contingent at the National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph on Whitehall – a well deserved honour for this long serving police officer.

Here in Dorset – where a huge proportion of our population have served or grown up in Forces families – services and processions will take place across the county, and I myself will be joining events at Bournemouth Town Hall and Wimborne Minster.

But as we reflect on the huge sacrifices veterans have made, we should also consider the many challenges others continue to face – here and across the rest of the country.

The transition to civilian life is not always easy and sadly, many have been diagnosed with mental health difficulties including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some become dependent on alcohol and drugs, some find it difficult to find work or become homeless, while there is a disproportionate number of veterans in prison and tragically, some take their own lives.

My office has been doing a lot of work with charities and other organisations who help veterans, and has been supporting projects that will make a difference.

New gym for veterans

The Veterans’ Hub in Weymouth is a fantastic organisation providing peer support for ex Forces personnel and their families, set up by former Rifles solider Andy Price.

They have now been able to build a gym at their centre in Wyke Regis, supported by my Safer Dorset Fund.

For veterans – who were once very proud of their physicality but who may now suffer from mental health or physical issues, public gyms can be a step too far, but the Veterans’ Hub is now providing a safe space where they can take advantage of the physical and psychological benefits that exercise brings.

 

We have also funded the creation of a garden for Alabare’s centre in Weymouth, which provide homes for veterans who would otherwise be forced to sleep on the streets.

The centre provides six beds and two dedicated support workers who link residents up with support to deal with issues from depression to unemployment or family breakdown.

The garden, created on a formerly overgrown piece of land at the back of their centre, has provided a focal point where members of this community can come together, and which can be used for counselling sessions.

Help for homeless veterans

We have worked closely with the YMCA to support them in creating a homeless veterans project covering Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch. The scheme, which has been operating since June, means they are now prioritising former military personnel for accommodation in their communal living hostels.

Through my Safer Dorset Fund, we have also provided a grant to Above and Beyond, who are now training veterans in woodland skills with a view to them being able to go on to full time employment. Four of these veterans had previously been in the criminal justice system while one had been homeless.

Helping end cycle of reoffending

My office has been working closely with HMP Portland, and I’m very excited to announce a new agreement we’ve helped set up between the prison and HeliOperations – which provides state of the art helicopter training on the island.

Under this agreement, veterans who are serving sentences in the prison but are eligible for Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) will be considered to work shifts helping ground crews at HeliOperations’ centre by Portland Harbour.

Not all prisoners are entitled to ROTL. It’s only given to those who have been robustly risk assessed and means they are allowed out for limited periods for activities such as training.

This HeliOperations agreement is an opportunity that will only be given to prisoners who have previously been in the Armed Forces and are assessed as being able to benefit from – and contribute to – this kind of work.

But it will provide important experience which I hope will help the right person break out of the cycle of reoffending and get into meaningful employment upon their release.

Close links with veterans’ organisations

My office is an active member of Dorset’s Armed Forces Covenant Board, and we have close links with organisations including the Royal British Legion and SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity.

Work continues on a wide range of other projects to help veterans and their families, and I hope to be able to announce some of these shortly.

As we mark Remembrance Sunday, let’s think about our former servicemen and women.

They are an asset to our community, and we all need to work together to help the few heroes who for whatever reason are struggling to cope.

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