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Help our heroes in their hour of need, MC recipient Beattie urges Executive

By Cate McCurry

Published 19/07/2016

Doug Beattie
Doug Beattie

An Assembly Member and Army veteran has issued a heartfelt plea for the Executive to do more for soldiers after a young reservist he served alongside in Afghanistan took his own life.

Military Cross recipient Doug Beattie urged Stormont ministers to work with a support group set up to help those who have served in the armed forces following the sudden death of Royal Irish reservist Lance Corporal Andrew McFarland.

The 32-year-old father-of-three was buried last Friday after he passed away on July 12 at his home in Ballymena.

Mr Beattie, an Ulster Unionist MLA, said Mr McFarland was the fourth soldier who served in Afghanistan at the same time as he did to have taken his own life. The pair had served together in the 1 Royal Irish battle group during a 2011 tour of the war zone.

Mr Beattie said the Executive must start to engage with the Armed Forces Covenant working group, which aims to ensure those who serve or have served in the armed forces are not left disadvantaged.

He said he will be writing to both the Health Minister and Communities Minister to ask what they will do to help veterans.

“Yet again we have buried another one of our servicemen due to suicide,” he said.

“Although the Armed Forces Covenant was established in 2011, the Northern Ireland Executive is yet to engage with its working group. This means vital services that could help our veterans community and our reserves are not being utilised.

“Armed Forces Champions in each of the 11 councils are not resourced or funded and have no accountability. This has led to a disjointed approach towards armed forces issues, particularly those affecting our reserves and those who served in the UDR.

“This year I was assured that the Veterans and Reserves Mental Health Programme (VRMHP), situated in Chetwyn Barracks near Nottingham, would accept Northern Ireland veterans and reserves without a GP referral. However, recently it has become clear that you must have a GP referral before they will accept you on the programme.

“On the Ministry of Defence website it states ‘since April 2016, in most instances, eligible veterans and reserves will be referred to the most local Defence Community Mental Health (DCMH) to where they live’. However, this seems not to apply to Northern Ireland veterans who could avail of a DCMH at Aldergrove Station.”

Mr Beattie accused the Ministry of Defence of failing to consider the security issues in Northern Ireland and that many veterans “do not feel comfortable” talking about their military service with their GP.

He added: “Suicide from mental health issues affects many corners of our society. Many can seek help without compromising their security but others cannot.

“It is incumbent on the Executive to help deliver for veterans and it can start by engaging with the Armed Forces Covenant working group.”

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