What about the battles still to be fought?
In a time of austerity, military expenditure is often one of the first things to be cut, and the recent spending review and future plans announced by Philip Hammond embraces this idea. There are several ideas that support such reduction; aside from the need to make savings to cut the deficit, the planned withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014 means that Britain will need significantly smaller armed forces.
However, what the spending cuts demonstrate is a worrying lack of forward planning. In military terms, the vast reduction of the armed forces will severely prohibit British ability to conduct expeditionary warfare – an element of which has been involved in all of our campaigns since the Falklands War 30 years ago, itself an amphibious expeditionary campaign. The stated plan is also for an expanded Territorial Army to pick up the slack, but this too has problems. Not only does Britain not have an established tradition of reservists, but the idea that people from the already economically-pressed private sector will get the increased time off work for deployments from their employers is naive.
But there’s a far worrying lack of forward thinking that goes beyond military terms, and that is in terms of mental welfare. Despite David Cameron projecting the image that this Government would be on the side of service men and women through projects such as the Military Covenant, this government is in fact creating the potential for widespread social and psychological problems amongst former service personnel.
The military really is its own world, a state within a state, and service personnel are products of that culture. It takes a considerable amount of time to be able to adjust to the civilian way of life after military service. While historically, the vast majority of men and women leaving the British armed forces have accomplished this and been very successful, Britain is currently in the midst of a double dip recession. Difficulty in finding jobs can create financial pressures that complicate the transition from military to civilian, and lead to real and abject poverty and homelessness, something the charity Veterans’ Aid can readily attest to. If the veteran has psychological issues as a result of combat experience – something far more British troops have experienced due to recent long-term operations – the removal from the familiarity of the military world and being plunged into uncertainty can lead to severe emotional and psychological difficulties. Such factors have been clearly identified as triggers for the onset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and the subsequent problems of anti-social behavior, alcohol and substance abuse, and relationship breakdown that sadly often follow. There are statistics available to suggest that those who have served a shorter time and those who have served in the reserves but on front-line duty are even more vulnerable to psychological trauma. Yet these are amongst the troops who will bear the brunt of the cuts and those who will carry the burden of future operations, respectively. Previously, it has been assumed that it takes some 14 years for PTSD to truly manifest itself, but with the sudden raft of redundancies, and an unsympathetic job market, this time frame could be severely narrowed. Who will be there to help these veterans if and when it does?
The charity Combat Stress saw a 10% increase in demand for the specialist services they provide in caring for veterans’ mental health in 2011. Unlike the United States, Britain does not have a specific Ministry for Veterans, instead the care has been divided up between the MOD, the Department of Health, and, increasingly the third sector and charities like Combat Stress and Help for Heroes. The NHS has been undoubtedly poor at identifying veterans and exploring the potential for service-related trauma for many years, and with concurrent cuts afflicting the NHS and the MOD, the question must be asked as to who will look after British veterans in future. Charity is one of the first things to suffer during a recession, so the Government can no longer rely on the sterling work done by military charities.
While most veterans adjust to life outside the armed forces without any difficulty, a raft of sudden redundancies thrusts a whole new load of men and women onto the job market in an already competitive environment. There are bound to be some difficulties, both in the short-term, but potentially and more significantly in the long-term, and one cannot help but wonder whether due consideration has been given to that fact.