During 2014 this country has rightly remembered the outbreak of The First World War and the 70th anniversary of D Day and recognised the role servicemen and women play today. The last troops, who will leave Afghanistan by the end of the year, will understandably be the focus of much media attention. But what happens when all the pomp and ceremony is over, the journalists move on to a new story and, in many cases, our interest wanes? What about the 20,000 veterans who leave the UK’s armed forces every year.
Sadly, for some, the reality of adjusting to life after service proves very difficult for them, their families and some members of the public they encounter. As well as the human cost there is also a major financial impact. According to The Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), which was established to improve the transition from military to civilian, the UK had to spend £113 million in 2012 (including £26 million on mental health issues and £35 million on alcohol misuse) because of problems people had in adapting to a new life. The British Legion estimates that in London alone there are more than 1000 homeless veterans. In Newcastle there are around 750.
It is against this background that I am delighted that Home Group, in partnership with The Forces in Mind Trust, has just opened the Roland Elcock House in Wolverhampton. It is a £1.26 million development of 14 self-contained flats which also provides a Veterans Transition Scheme giving residents access to training and employment opportunities, helping them gain life skills and enable them to move onto their own tenancy and live independently. Home Group has funded the development and the day to day running of the scheme is being funded by a grant from the FiMT.
The UK does not have the numbers or the money to emulate the vast Veterans Association in the United States. But, just as US veterans are venerated by its society, I believe the attitude here towards members of the military has changed over the past few years. From being seen as a necessary evil, our servicemen and women are now treated with respect by the vast majority. Much of the credit for that shift in attitude is due to the activities of the Help for Heroes. It has helped highlight the sacrifices so many people have made where, perhaps in the past, their stories were swept under the carpet.
Who was Roland Elcock? He enlisted in the British Army just after the outbreak of The First World War, but was discharged when it was discovered he was only 15. He worked as a clerk in Wolverhampton before re-enlisting at the age of 18 and a year later won the Victoria Cross, the highest military medal, for saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. We are honoured to be associated with his memory.