By Ian Millen (CEO Veterans Outreach Support)
***We are NOW HIRING a Welfare Support Worker for the ‘Welcome Home’ Project. If you are interested in this role or know someone who may be, apply or find more details at this link.***
Veterans Outreach Support is proud to be an inclusive and welcoming place for all veterans and has a history of supporting many members of the LGBT+ community who have proudly served their nation in the UK Armed Forces or Merchant Navy.
As such, we very much welcome this week’s publication of Lord Etherton’s Independent Review into the service and experience of LGBT veterans who served prior to 2000, alongside the public apology from the UK Prime Minister for what he described as “an appalling failure of the British State.”
As Lord Etherton’s recommendations are implemented, it will also present practical challenges in steps required to put things right, and the report considers how veterans affected by the ban can be better supported by health and welfare organisations such as the NHS and veterans’ charities.
VOS is pleased to play its part in supporting our LGBT+ veterans, by continuing its existing support across our welfare, wellbeing, and clinical areas, as well as reinforcing our capacity to support LGBT+ veterans in the immediate aftermath of Lord Etherton’s review and this week’s government apology.
With financial support from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust (AFCFT), VOS is one of nine national VPPP Portfolio Leads in that will provide additional capability and capacity to support LGBT+ veterans in the months ahead, and beyond, in our case through the implementation of an LGBT+ support service named ‘Welcome Home’.
VOS LBGT+ SUPPORT SERVICE, ‘WELCOME HOME’
The Welcome Home service is designed to create a ‘fast-track’ support service to members of the LGBT+ Veteran Community who were impacted by the historic ban. The service offers a ‘no wrong door’ approach, with dedicated Welfare support for all affected across the VPPP Southeast region. The Service will formally commence on 1st August.
The Welcome Home service will create a new role of Welfare / Peer Support Worker to support VPPPSE partners and beneficiaries in the following ways:
• Raise awareness of the challenges faced by LGBT+ veterans, with targeted information and support delivered to staff, volunteers, VPPPSE partner organisations, Third Sector organisations, and statutory organisations such as the NHS.
• Improve access to support from VOS, VPPPSE partners, other service agencies, and external agencies, applying the ‘No Wrong Door’ approach to collaborative working.
• Assist LGBT+ veterans with welfare needs, to include conducting needs assessments, advice on benefits, War Pensions, and Armed Forces Compensation Schemes, including assistance and support throughout any claims process.
The Welfare strand of our programme will be in place immediately, with other elements following as soon as materials are developed, including any guidance, advice and materials provided by specialist partners, such as Fighting With Pride (FWP). The unique capacity of a dedicated Welfare/Peer Support Worker with the necessary skills to manage a triage service across Welfare, Wellbeing, and Mental Health support will complement existing services such as Op Courage and Fighting With Pride but will have the capacity to support multiple cases across the Veterans Places, Pathways and People (VPPP) Southeast Region that VOS leads.
In delivering support, we will make the most of local and regional partners, to achieve the maximum benefit for our service users, to maximise the outreach we hope to achieve, enabling the maximum number of LGBT+ veterans to access support and services.
Thanks to some great work done by Fighting With Pride (FWP) and Northumbria University before the publication of Lord Etherton’s review, we already know about many of the key issues that have negatively affected those impacted by the ban. These include, but are not limited to:
• Social isolation and loneliness: Caused through a combination of being ‘outed’, disassociated with the military family and friends networks. Where appropriate and wanted, the Welcome Home service will provide new networks and activities to combat loneliness and isolation, as well as connecting them with the growing FWP community of over 500 LGBT+ veterans and other communities.
• Financial issues: Have been caused by periods of unemployment, lack of opportunity for resettlement, employment on lower rates of pay, not being able to work due to health issues, the impact of criminal records or being ‘dismissed in disgrace’, not having military pensions or diminished pensions. LGBT+ veterans have also tended to be transient in where they live and work, which has adversely affected their careers.
• Housing issues: A high prevalence of housing issues in LGBT+ veterans communities have been caused by low income, lack of ability to prepare for civilian life, low levels of savings, estrangement from family and friends. There is also anecdotal evidence that few LGBT+ veterans live in veterans’ specific accommodation.
• Mental health issues: A very high correlation between LGBT+ veterans and experiences of mental health issues.
THE WAY AHEAD
As we digest the recommendations and actions from Lord Etherton’s report, we will listen carefully to those affected and ensure that we are flexible and dynamic in our approach to the service we provide, remaining cognisant of emerging thinking on how best to support our LGBT+ beneficiaries.
We will continue our dialogue with existing LGBT+ service users and new users of the Welcome Home service, to ensure that it remains responsive, appropriate, and accessible. We will engage with service providers and partners to ensure that they are kept up to date with issues as they emerge, and we will develop and strengthen links with specialist, community-based support across the VPPPSE region, including those supporting the wider LGBT+ community.
Our next steps are to review the recommendations, refine our plans and recruit the Welfare/Peer Support Worker to join our team and increase our capacity to support our LGBT+ service users in the work that lies ahead to make their lives better.
If you’re a veteran from the UK Armed Forces or the Merchant Navy (from any time of service) or a partner, spouse, or carer to one, VOS would love for you to join our community. We are here to offer our support: call us on 02392 731 767, visit an upcoming drop-in, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.