More than two-fifths of veterans who fought in Afghanistan – and half of all those who fought in the Gulf War – reported being formally diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Yet, 85 per cent of veterans believe the UK does not offer enough support to its former soldiers, while 78 per cent think the US is more generous than the UK to its veterans.
Air Vice-Marshal David Murray, chief executive, SSAFA, said: ‘Our research has identified a cohort of veterans living in pretty desperate circumstances, often through no fault of their own. These men and women are not fulfilling their potential in civilian life; their plight is too easily ignored.
‘Disappointingly, something that comes across loud and clear from our report is that many of the veterans helped by SSAFA do not feel valued. They have served our country – sometimes suffered for our country – and yet they feel forgotten.
‘SSAFA knows that the transition period is a pivotal time for those taking their first steps back into wider society. We must identify vulnerable service leavers before they walk out of the barracks for the last time.’
One of those interviewed is David Swift, who joined the Army aged 17, but found it nearly impossible to adjust to civilian life when he left and ended up living on the streets.
He said: ‘In the space of a year I went from being a healthy young man in a great regiment to someone sitting in a park wondering what the point of my life was. You need help, but your pride is too important to you. Sometimes you think your family would be better off without you. You feel worthless.’
To improve the situation, the SSAFA is calling for welfare screening for vulnerable servicemen and women before they leave the Forces and a new government-funded mentoring scheme to support vulnerable veterans for at least their first year as a civilian.
It also wants the Ministry of Defence to improve its discharge processes to ensure that the service records of veterans are shared with the appropriate health and welfare professionals.
In his foreword to SSAFA’s report, former Chief of the Defence Staff, Field Marshal the Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, writes: ‘This report from SSAFA makes for sober reading. It identifies a group of veterans who feel undervalued and under-appreciated, who are slipping through the net when we, as a society, could prevent that happening.
‘We simply must do better for those who have served our nation.’
His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent, the SSAFA’s National President, adds: ‘This very timely report reminds us that we do not always see the human cost of the sacrifices made by our veterans. Some are suffering in silence, living in financial hardship or coping with ill-health. Not used to asking for help, they can too easily be forgotten.’
A MOD spokesperson said: ‘We are absolutely focused on supporting working age veterans. That is why we’ve developed specific schemes to deliver career guidance, and to help find housing and expert healthcare.
‘Just last week we allocated £14m in bank fines to military charities to help those most in need. But we know that there is more to do and we will study the report.’