Britain has a ‘duty of care’ towards its Armed Forces.
The Armed Forces Covenant is a ‘promise’ from the nation that those who serve, families and veterans are treated fairly. The covenant was invented in 2000 in a piece of military doctrine, an informal understanding, not enshrined in any law to make it enforceable.
Soldiers are called upon to make personal sacrifices, including putting their lives at risk for the service of the nation. In putting those needs before their own, and their loved ones, they forego some of the most basic rights enjoyed by those outside of the Armed Forces. In return, British soldiers are promised to expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as individuals, and rewarded by commensurate terms and conditions of service.
This mutual obligation forms the Military Covenant between the nation, the Army and each individual soldier; a supposedly unbreakable common bond of identity, loyalty and responsibility. However, despite all the warm ministerial words, the Ministry of Defence has been neglectful of their commitments to our service personnel. It is currently a broken covenant, and this is simply not acceptable.
An underlying culture of bullying, sexual assaults, and harassment in the Armed Forces is of increasing concern. This has led to extensive studies and research commissioned by chief of the general staff General Sir Nick Carter. The findings were so worrying that it led him to conclude that the Army has an “overly sexualised culture in which inappropriate behaviour is deemed acceptable”.
Bullying in the Armed Forces is not just restricted to new recruits or junior ranks. The new Service Complaints Commissioner tells us that every branch of the Armed Forces has issues around bullying, harassment, gender and race, but it is clear that those suffering need to find the courage to come forward and complain. Victims require reassurance that their complaints will be heard fairly and by an independent body.
The Government is also failing to abide by its pledge to provide injured British soldiers priority for medical treatment, during and in the years after service. This has subsequently led to the delays in diagnosing and treating serious and complex medical health conditions, resulting on occasion in catastrophic personal and financial hardship.
According to the covenant, the moral obligation to treat service personnel should not stop when service ends. Veterans should receive priority healthcare from the NHS when treated for a condition caused as a result of their service in the Armed Forces. Yet we are acutely aware that civilian doctors fail to understand the complexity of military mental health. This has caused many veteran PTSD sufferers left unable to integrate into civilian life, untreated, and neglected by society. Britain’s failed heroes.
The failure to provide adequate medical care has understandably led to a rise in Armed Forces Compensation and civilian claims, with hundreds of injured and wounded having to use their compensation to fund their rehabilitation on a private basis.
With so many other breaches of duty, such as neglecting families housing needs, service children’s schooling and not adequately resourcing service men and women with appropriate equipment to match their commitment, it is clear that the current Military Covenant is nothing short of loose words and broken promises.