In October 2014 the British Armed Forces were preparing to withdraw the last few troops from Afghanistan and the media was full of stories about the effects of recent conflicts upon the men and women returning home.
It was in this setting that Healthwatch Norfolk first started looking at the issue of veterans’ mental health. Over the last 36 months, we have conducted in-depth interviews with veterans and families from across Norfolk and Suffolk, working alongside them to improve local health and care services. During this time, we have learned all about GIMPYs*, Bricks** and the NAAFI***. We have learned that most veterans settle well into civilian life. And we have learned that, sometimes, the real fighting does not start until the guns have stopped.
We are all shaped by the things that we have done, and the majority of it is good. But I think, when I’m at my low ebb, the more horrible things sort of drift through and it can become a bit dark and unpleasant...
Former Officer, British Army.
Healthwatch Norfolk is an independent representative for people using health and care in Norfolk. Our role is to help local people to influence the design and delivery of local services.
The Healthwatch Norfolk Veterans Project has always been about giving something back to the veterans and families who have served their country. Working in collaboration with over 200 organisations, including Health Education England and NHS England, we have successfully used patient stories to help implement service improvements, including:
• veteran specific training for 272 student GPs across the East of England
• increased funding for NHS veterans’ mental health services across the country
We are very proud that our work has recently been awarded an NHS England ‘Celebrating Participation in Healthcare’ grant. We used the grant to produce an animation, with the aim of inspiring other organisations to help give a voice to veterans and families in their area, you can find this on the Healthwatch Norfolk website.
Veterans are one of several groups who are often classified as ‘difficult to reach’. It is our hope that the stories from our local veterans and families, as told through the animation, will serve as a reminder of what can be achieved when care is taken to listen to the views and experiences of some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
This animation marks the end of the Healthwatch Norfolk Veterans Project. We are deeply indebted to all the veterans and families who contributed to our work. In a society where so many people remain reluctant to talk about mental health, our participants demonstrated great courage in stepping forwards to give a voice to those of their comrades who are unable to speak up for themselves. We hope to continue to support this cause to make sure our local veterans receive the care that they need.
Edward Fraser, Project Officer
For more information on the work Healthwatch Norfolk has been doing visit their website: www.healthwatchnorfolk.co.uk
And for more information on support and services for Veterans and their families, why not why not sign up for updates on Atom or follow us on Facebook and Twitter? Details are on the right.
* GIMPY = slang for LA72 GPMG which is a general purpose machine gun, which has been in service in the military for many years.
** Brick = team of 4 soldiers (3 bricks made up a patrol in Northern Ireland.
*** NAAFI = Navy, Arm and Air Institutes, the organisation created by the British government to run recreational establishments for the Armed Forces)