Dr David Crichton blog: Support is available for military veterans

Armed forces day picSaturday 25 June, 2016  is Armed Forces Day, a great opportunity for businesses and organisations to show their backing for our brave servicemen and women.

The Army supported my medical education through university and I proudly served as a medical officer for the Parachute Regiment for several years after qualifying as a doctor.

In my current role as Chair of NHS Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) I also work with former service personnel who have moved into Civvy Street, including Rhona McCleery and Jayne Satterthwaite – pictured with me – who have settled locally after serving in the Army and RAF respectively.

Doncaster continues to be a popular recruiting ground for the forces and, in addition to serving personnel, has thousands of ex-servicemen and women living in the borough, many of whom have on-going health issues.

In planning and arranging health services for Doncaster people, it’s important that the CCG listens to all sections of local society, including vulnerable people and hard to reach groups. To help us, we have developed a network of local ‘health ambassadors’ to work with. They speak up for such groups as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, gypsy and travellers, the homeless, those with a learning disability, sex workers, deaf people, refugee and asylum seekers, cancer survivors and Black & Minority Ethnic groups.

In the run-up to armed Forces Day, I’m pleased to say that our latest addition to the network is former soldier Andy Martin, who has agreed become the local health ambassador for service veterans.

Andy served for eight years with the Royal Anglian Regiment and in 1991 suffered a spine injury whilst parachuting. With physiotherapy he managed to continue his service career until 1998 but, as a result of other injuries, he is now in a wheelchair.

For the last six years Andy has spent his time volunteering as a veterans’ welfare case worker, calling on his experiences since leaving the military and having a spinal operation 10 years ago. He brings a useful insight into how local health services can be accessed by veterans.

Nationally, it’s estimated that one in every 1000 veterans is discharged due to mental health issues.  Yet, for a variety of reasons, veterans do not come into contact with mental health services for, on average, 14 years. In Doncaster we have arrangements in place to help veterans who have mental health issues, including fast-track referrals to specialist services. The problems they have tend to be very similar to the general population and include adjustment disorders, depression, anxiety and alcohol issues.

Interestingly, the number of local ex-servicemen and women who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is only slightly higher than the general population, which may surprise some people.
There is a very useful local website – www.talkingsense.org – which gives lots of information about the help that’s available, plus a self-referral veterans’ outreach service, which provides specialist interventions and assessment by ringing 01482 617594.

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