Veterans who leave service due to injuries or physical conditions face inconsistent support

Categories: School of Health and Society

New research has shed light on the inconsistent experiences of personnel who leave the military due to a physical injury or condition acquired in service. 

The study found that, while there was evidence of good practice, there was significant variability, uncertainty and inconsistencies in the recovery and resettlement processes. The researchers concluded that this variability of experience needs to be addressed by the Government and NHS.

The research is the first UK qualitative longitudinal study to explore the experiences and outcomes for service leavers with a physical injury or condition acquired in service. It was commissioned by Forces in Mind Trust and conducted by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in partnership with the University of Salford.

The recommendations in the report focus on three areas: process improvements throughout the medical discharge process, better communication surrounding compensation payments and financial support, and continuity of health care from the military into civilian life. 

Participants’ accounts demonstrated that there was a need to provide greater mental health support to those discharged with a physical injury or condition to help them adjust to their sudden change of circumstances. Another significant challenge was whether sufficient time has been recommended by the Medical Board to allow service leavers adequate time to prepare for civilian life. For some, the lack of time to prepare had significant and negative consequences. 

The value of financial support available was often viewed positively, but significant concerns were raised about the complexity of various schemes and payments, uncertainty during long waiting periods and the level of awards that were given. Many described this process as stressful and required the support of other organisations to understand and access their compensation. 

In addition, while many experienced a seamless process as their medical care was transferred over to civilian healthcare, there were equal numbers who had experienced difficulties.

Case study: One participant who served 15 years in the Army and was in the process of being medically discharged with a back injury during the first interview still had not had his medical records released to his civilian GP by his second interview a year later, despite him requesting for them to do so. He said: "If I do start having flare-ups and go back to the doctor and say, 'Look…', they've got no history to refer to. I've been very disappointed with that… If I go back and just say, 'Look, I need this medication', the doctor will be like, 'Well, why?' Then I've got to go and give him four years' worth of history… He can't just refer to my notes on the screen and go, 'Yes, I can see you've had back trouble since 2014, and you've had this medication." The researchers identified accessing service medical records as a key challenge, and recommend the Ministry of Defence address delays at the earliest opportunity.

Mike Ellicock, Chief Executive of Forces in Mind Trust, said: "This research provides important and useful recommendations for improvements which can make a real difference to those who leave service with a physical condition or injury. We are pleased that some of these recommendations have already been acknowledged by the Government and NHS, and we hope to see them now take action to remove some of the barriers which remain, and ensure consistent and accessible support is provided. 

"The researchers note that participants had a significant sense of pride when they spoke about their service, and many spoke positively about the support they received both within and outside of the military. We must collectively seek to ensure that this is the experience of all service leavers with physical injuries and conditions acquired in service as they transition to civilian life."

Dr Celia Hynes, University of Central Lancashire, lead author of the report said: "Our team has been privileged to undertake this research and thank the Forces in Mind Trust for their support. Our aim within this qualitative piece of research was to hear directly from service leavers who had left service with a physical injury or condition about their experiences of the discharge process and the impact on life over a period of time after service. All participants valued their time served within Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and held a great sense of pride. However, for some their experience was tainted by the process and practices of discharge. The recommendations that are proposed within this report highlight how changes may improve the experience and have a positive impact on the transition of this particular cohort.  We have been humbled to hear first-hand experiences and thank all our participants for their contributions."

Professor Lisa Scullion, University of Salford, who co-led the project said: "Our research represents the first to look at the experiences of those leaving service with physical injuries/conditions from a holistic perspective, exploring people’s journeys through various aspects of the discharge process and transition to civilian life. Although good practice was evident in the support provided to some service leavers, it was evident that this varied significantly. Our research raises particular concerns around communication and support during the discharge process, experiences of financial compensation processes, the transfer of medical support to civilian health care, and the intersection between physical and mental health”.

Image Copyright: UK MOD © Crown copyright 2020

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