'I'm the veterans’ minister giving extra £10m to our heroes –and I'm just getting started'

EXCLUSIVE: Johnny Mercer says £10million funding boost for veterans' mental health services is part of transformation in services for Britain's military heroes.

By Michael Knowles, Home Affairs and Defence Editor

UK - Warminster - Demonstraing British Army sniper rifle on firing range

British Army sniper training in Warminster (Image: Getty)

Johnny Mercer has tonight hailed a £10million funding boost for veterans' mental health services.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is expected to confirm the extra cash during Wednesday’s Autumn Statement.

And Veterans’ Minister Johnny told the Daily Express: “While in the past, services for veterans have often been lacking, now, under this Prime Minister, what it feels like to be a veteran is being fundamentally transformed.

“Over the last year, we have seen £5million given to fund new healthcare innovations, a commitment to end veteran homelessness this year through Op Fortitude, including through a substantial investment in housing, and a new dedicated health pathway for the physical needs of veterans, called Op Restore.

“This will run alongside the dedicated veterans mental health pathway, Op Courage. And Wednesday’s Autumn Statement will also see more stepped-up support for our veterans, with £10million for mental health services, including those who are homeless, isolated or elderly.”

Nearly 30,000 former personnel, reservists, family members and carers, have sought specialist help for their mental health in the past six years.

A spate of suicides after some of the most brutal tours of Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, was the first time veterans were more likely to take their lives than civilians.

A study earlier this year also said younger military personnel were more likely to commit suicide.

Mr Mercer, writing for the Daily Express after announcing in Parliament an overhaul of veterans’ services, said he is “focused on making the right changes which will benefit all veterans across the UK, step by step”.

He confirmed the Veterans UK banner is being scrapped, with defence chiefs now scrambling to find a better way to direct ex-personnel to counselling, housing support and employment opportunities.

Officials are concerned former personnel were struggling to find the help they needed.

And Mr Mercer admitted staff trying to help Britain’s war heroes have “sometimes been held back by old-fashioned systems”.

Soldiers Parade Through Malmesbury After Returning From Afghanistan

British soldiers on parade after returning from Afghanistan (Image: Getty)

The Cabinet minister conceded: “I know this has caused frustration in the veteran community and so we’ll deliver an improved service for them.

“So this change marks a vital step forward in better communicating the variety of services that the Ministry of Defence provides to not only veterans, but those in the military, their families and the bereaved community.”

The Daily Express has previously reported how paper records were still being used to provide some services for veterans.

The word “veteran” has now been taken out of all ministerial posts within the Ministry of Defence.

This will signal that the Office for Veterans’ Affairs is coordinating Government policy for former service personnel, Government sources believe.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Mercer said the move puts the Government "yet another step closer… to making the UK the best country in the world to be a veteran".

He also paid tribute to the independent review team, adding that the UK has an "unwavering duty to those who put their life on the line for our freedom".

"This Government is committed and determined to discharge that duty with the honour and respect our courageous ex-service personnel deserve," he said.

Minister for Defence People and Families, Andrew Murrison, said: “This jointly commissioned independent review builds on the hard work already being undertaken by a lot of people who genuinely care about providing high-quality services for our Armed Forces Community.

“The recommendations in this review will help ensure we are taking that hard work in the right direction for our Armed Forces Community, who deserve the best services.”

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