Chesterfield soldier backs calls to make monitoring rate of military veteran suicides compulsory

A Chesterfield soldier who was talked down from a bridge has backed calls to make monitoring the rate of suicides among military veterans compulsory.

An investigation by JPIMedia Investigations last summer - which prompted a national debate - revealed that the Government does not monitor how many former service personnel take their own lives, amid fears that the number of cases is spiralling.

Former Chesterfield soldier, Ben Elliott.

Former Chesterfield soldier, Ben Elliott.

Allied nations like the US, Australia and Canada all record the number of veteran suicides closely, having found significant increases in the past decade.

In 2017 Ben Elliott, now 29, who served in Afghanistan, was talked down from a Chesterfield bridge by a taxi driver. Mr Elliott had struggled to re-adjust to civilian life as he was struggling with depression and anxiety after witnessing horrific explosions and deaths.

When asked whether he thought the recording of suicides among veterans should be made compulsory, he said: “100 per cent. In 20 years’ time it would be looked back on as being a really good idea. It is definitely something that has crossed my mind in the past. It would be stupid to ignore it because it is a great idea and it will pay for itself.”

Since we highlighted the issue, Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood announced the Government would begin a study into suicide rates among veterans who previously served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Combat Stress statistics.

Combat Stress statistics.

He also said in November that it was his ambition ‘to understand from every coroner whether an individual death is a veteran or not’.

However, we can now reveal a row at the heart of Government over the issue, with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) claiming it is not feasible for coroners to record veteran suicides.

MPs on the Defence Select Committee have also been keenly pursuing the issue of military mental health, publishing their first report last July. It recommended that the Ministry of Defence work with the justice departments across the four UK nations to work out from existing suicide records whether someone had been a veteran.

Dr Walter Busuttil, Medical director of national veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress, said it is now up to MPs to step in and make it a statutory responsibility on coroners to record veteran suicides.

“If they want to record things properly then they are going to have to change the law,” he said.

He said it sounded a viable idea for coroners’ IT systems to be linked to MoD pension records, to verify if someone was a veteran.

“There are precedents, it can be done,” he said.

However, the MoJ said it was too complex for coroners to record veteran suicides, in particular because of the potential difficulties of accurately establishing a victim’s occupational history.

“For this reason, there are no plans to require coroners to record this kind of information in the context of suicide conclusions,” a spokesperson said.

The MoD is considering how to respond to the setback.

An MoD spokeswoman replied: “We take the well-being of all those who have served extremely seriously and we are currently considering how we can better understand the cohort of veterans who take their own lives.”

Last week Mr Ellwood, a former Royal Green Jackets Captain, offered a public apology to the grieving families of veterans and serving personnel who took their lives this year and last, vowing to fight on in addressing the issue.

Meanwhile, SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, is urgently appealing to the people of Chesterfield and Bolsover to join its network of volunteers that provide support for the Armed Forces community.

The SSAFA Derbyshire branch is looking to recruit new case workers to help continue its vital work supporting veterans and their families in the area.

A background in the Armed Forces is not necessary but empathy and enthusiasm is a must.

SSAFA volunteer caseworkers provide support to veterans and their families who are in need. This could include access to financial assistance, advice and support on personal affairs and access to special equipment for those with disabilities.

In addition to volunteer case workers, the Derbyshire branch is also looking to recruit a new division assistant treasurer in Chesterfield.

Divisional assistant treasurers are responsible for supporting the management of all the branch funds and accounts. Experience of accountancy, financial and audit processes are desirable, but a Forces background is not essential.

Tracey Berridge, deputy director of volunteer operations at SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, says: “After all that the Armed Forces and their families have sacrificed for us, we feel it is our duty to make sure they receive the support they need when they face difficulties on their return to civilian life.

“We are in urgent need of more dedicated volunteers in Chesterfield and Bolsover, so SSAFA can continue to reach more veterans and families in need of help. They have sacrificed a great deal for us, and now it’s our turn to support them. Please get in touch with our team to find out more.”

WHERE TO GET HELP

If you are affected by any of the issues raised by this article, help and advice is available from these organisations:

- Veterans Gateway: 0808 802 1212 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

- Veterans UK: 0808 1914218 (8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday)

- NHS: www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/military-healthcare/nhs-mental-health-services-for-veterans/

- Samaritans: 116 123 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

- Combat Stress: 0800 138 1619 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

- Help for Heroes: 01980 844280 (weekdays, between 9am and 5pm

- Royal British Legion: 0808 802 8080 (8am to 8pm, 7 days a week)