Deputy Minister Hannah Blythyn today made a statement about the Welsh Government’s commitment to the Armed Forces communities in Wales.
“In November of each year we rightly take the opportunity to honour and mark the debt of gratitude we owe to the fallen, to our veterans and to our Armed Forces communities across Wales as part of the annual remembrance period.
2019 sees a number of significant anniversaries.
In June we commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a momentous moment that we now know marked the beginning of the end of War in Europe. Major commemorations took place both here in the UK and along the Normandy coast, as communities and countries reflected, recognised and remembered. My own Great Uncle Tommy – Thomas Edward Oldfield of the Royal Army Service Corps – served in Belgium and France before D Day. He was at Arromanches during the landings where he saw his Uncle Arthur Brockley getting off a boat onto shore. Tommy still attends his local cenotaph annually on Remembrance Sunday.
Last month marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of ‘s-Hertogenbosch by 53rd (Welsh) Division. The First Minister represented Wales during commemorative events there on 26-27 October. 146 Welsh soldiers were lost during that one engagement.
This August marked the 50th anniversary of the UK Armed Forces’ deployment on operations in Northern Ireland – the longest continuous operation in British Military history.
This year the Royal British Legion is inviting communities across Britain to ‘Remember Together’ the service and sacrifice, friendship and collaboration of the men and women of Britain, the Commonwealth and Allied nations who fought together in 1944.
And through our Cymru’n Cofio – Wales Remembers programme, we continue to mark the centenary of the First World War. The programme works in collaboration with national and local partners providing a fitting tribute to those touched by that terrible conflict.
I am pleased that funding has been provided to extend the programme until 2020.
In May I launched the Welsh Government’s first ever Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report. This report captures the progress we have made and is testament to what can be achieved when working collaboratively across all sectors.
Today, I would like to take the opportunity to share with Members the progress made in providing increased support for our Armed Forces community.
This Welsh Government remains fully committed to supporting the health and well-being of our Armed Forces community; working to ensure healthcare provision meets their needs.
We provide Veterans NHS Wales with nearly £700k annually to help treat mental health conditions. This is a unique service, the only national service of its kind in the UK, receiving over 4,500 referrals since it began.
At last month’s Covenant conference, I was pleased to help launch the Veterans Trauma Network in Wales. This is an extremely positive development which, in collaboration with a network of specialists throughout Wales, will provide ex-Service personnel, who suffered severe physical injury as a result of their service, access to timely and appropriate care for their injuries, regardless of where they live in Wales.
We recognise the impact transition may have on the well-being of our Armed Forces community. Having the right support in place on return to civilian life is critical – and is something we are actively addressing – working with the Ministry of Defence to ensure that Service leavers and their families returning to Wales have access to information on the support available at a local level.
To ensure consistency in the delivery of policies and procedures that support our Armed Forces community we have allocated £250,000 per year for two years from 2019 -20, to fund the Armed Forces Liaison Officers (AFLOs). Working with Local Authorities the Liaison Officers are making considerable progress – helping to increase engagement, up-skilling frontline staff and raising awareness of the Covenant.
There are numerous examples of best practice. In North Wales, for example, training for front line service providers is underway to raise awareness of the Covenant. Whilst in South Wales, Local Authorities in Gwent have amended their housing policies to take account of time served in the Armed Forces when it comes to waiting lists.
At the Armed Forces Expert Group in September we heard about the development of the Defence Transition Services (DTS). Aimed at those Service leavers and their families with complex transition needs, DTS will provide support and information in key areas such as housing, finance, health and well-being.
We will continue to work together with key partners to ensure we have a seamless support system in place for those who need it.
The Minister for Economy and Transport and I recently wrote jointly to all members regarding our Employment Pathway and Employers Toolkit. These important resources inform and provide options for Service leavers and veterans to get into decent work – applying the many invaluable skills that ex-service personnel have. We’d very much welcome support from members to raise awareness of these particularly helpful tools within the business community.
Periods of separation and the mobile nature of Service life can also lead to employment challenges for spouses. The new Forces Families Jobs website provides a forces-friendly facility that will help support Service families in accessing jobs and training opportunities.
Launching the website at our Covenant conference I heard first-hand the unique challenges facing Service family members. A number of businesses across Wales have registered with the site. To name but a few, these include, General Dynamics, The University of South Wales, Qioptic and Pembrokeshire College.
Service children with experience of parental deployment can face very real educational challenges. Launched in 2018 the Supporting Service Children in Wales Fund has been made available for the 2019/20 academic year. The bespoke fund of £250k aims to mitigate the effects of deployment or mobility, supporting schools in embedding practices that can benefit the Service children and their school
I am aware that some veterans struggle to secure housing – let’s be clear, that this is not acceptable. In recognition of their Service, Service personnel, who have been seriously injured or disabled in Service and who have an urgent need for social housing, should be given high priority within Local Authority allocation schemes. The Welsh Government is currently reviewing priority need arrangements and a report on this is due in April 2020.
In the last statement of this kind, my predecessor spoke about our Armed Forces Scoping Exercise to identify gaps in service delivery for the Armed Forces community.
This important work is moving forward and I would like to place on record my thanks to the veterans, families and organisations who have engaged with this work. Issues raised include; inconsistency of support during transition, the need for greater family support, help for those in prison and with substance misuse issues, and uncertainties on accessing help and advice.
We are now working in partnership with members of the Armed Forces Expert Group to take forward plans to tackle the issues rasied. We also continue to work closely with a number of UK Government Departments on the delivery of the UK Veterans strategy; our scoping results have fed into that work.
I know that challenges remain for members of our Armed Forces community. We are listening, we are acting and we are committed to meeting these challenges. By working well together, we will continue to make a positive difference ensuring that challenges are not faced alone or in isolation. Our Armed Forces community deserve our support and they will receive it.
We will not forget the sacrifice – for some the ultimate sacrifice – our Armed Services personnel have made.
What more fitting way to close this statement than with the quote from John Maxwell Edmunds
“When you go home tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today”.