The Veterans’ Wellbeing Assessment and Liaison Service (VWALS) will for the first time provide a single point of access for north east veterans who need mental health support. VWALS is available to anyone who has served in the armed forces (regular or reserve), for any length of time.
Simply by calling 0191 441 5974 (lines are open Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm) or emailing email@example.com anytime, veterans can get support to help them access local mental health and social care services.
One in four people can experience mental health problems in their lives, and those who have been in the armed forces are no exception to this. In fact veterans can be at an increased risk due to the difficulties that they sometimes face transferring from military to civilian life.
Despite this, those veterans who suffer from mental health problems can often delay seeking help for many years after they have returned home from active service and many are not registered with a GP.
Thirty eight year old Richard Blackburn, from Cramlington, served in the army for six years - he now works for Sun Spirit installing solar panels onto people’s homes. When he left the forces in 1997, he experienced post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and struggled to adjust to civilian life. Richard said:
“When I first left the army, I felt like I couldn’t function properly – I was struggling to remember simple things, such as taking medication. I just wasn’t myself.
“I didn’t know where to start when it came to seeking help, and it took me a long time to find a service which worked for me. It’s really helped that my managers at work have been so supportive – they’ve even given me time off to attend appointments.
“If you have been in the forces from a young age then getting to grips with civilian life when you leave can be quite overwhelming . Things like paying bills or trying to find a job for the first time can be stressful enough, without the worry of not knowing who to turn to for help with a mental health issue.
“Just having one number to contact will make things much easier. I think VWALS is a fantastic idea. I would encourage anyone in the north east who has been in the armed forces to contact VWALS if they are worried about their mental health.”
To use VWALS, veterans simply need to contact the service directly by phone or email. An outreach worker from the service will then visit the veteran in their own home to carry out an assessment to determine which local NHS services, social care organisations and charities are best placed to provide the help they need.
VWALS will then work closely with the services which are helping each veteran to ensure that they receive the best possible care and support.
Symon Day, clinical psychologist and veterans lead at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“The experiences people have during their military service, or in trying to adjust to civilian life after leaving the forces, can sometimes lead to anxiety, depression, stress or even alcohol and drug misuse. Veterans are also susceptible to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the traumatic events which they can be exposed to during combat.
“However, for a veteran experiencing mental health problems it can sometimes be difficult to know which of the many local NHS services and veterans’ charities to contact for help and support - especially if they have only recently left the armed forces and are still adjusting to civilian life.
“VWALS provides a solution to this issue by giving veterans a single point of contact and directing them to the local services which are best placed to provide the support that they need.
“It is hoped that by providing a simple, accessible way for veterans to receive mental health support, VWALS will also encourage north east veterans to come forward sooner about mental health issues rather than suffering in silence.”
Factors such as housing, welfare and employment will also be considered to ensure veterans receive support in these areas as part of their care. The NHS will be working closely with The Royal British Legion to provide support in these areas.
Andrew Drake, manager of The Royal British Legion in the North, said: “As the UK’s biggest Armed Forces charity, the Legion welcomes the launch of this much-needed service in the north east which represents the NHS working towards fulfilling aims set out in the Military Covenant - the nation’s pledge to look after our Armed Forces – specifically that they should face no disadvantage as a result of the unique nature of military service.
“It can be severely debilitating for those who experience mental health illnesses and for their families. The need to support and care for those who are vulnerable in the veteran community is vital.
“VWALS will make it easier for people to seek help and will create better health outcomes for our Armed Forces veterans. Streamlining the way in which veterans access mental health support will greatly contribute towards shrinking the stigma which can be associated with seeking assistance for mental health illnesses.”
The new VWALS service will also provide a wellbeing group for the families, partners and carers of veterans to help them better understand and cope with the issues often faced by those who have served in the armed forces.
Kenny Helyer – communications officer
0191 210 6493 / firstname.lastname@example.org
For out of hours media contacts ring 0191 210 6482.
Notes to editors
A veteran is anyone of any age who has served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces at any time, irrespective of length of service (including National Servicemen and Reservists).
• To contact VWALS simply call 0191 441 5974 (lines are open Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm) or email email@example.com
• VWALS will run as a pilot for twelve months and is provided as a partnership between the region’s two mental health trusts, Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust and Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, the charity Combat Stress and the Royal British Legion.
• You can find out more about the service at www.northeast.nhs.uk/vwals