Project to examine support for military veterans in Northern Ireland
A major study into the support available to military veterans in Northern Ireland is to be carried out for the first time.
The three-year project aims to determine the size of the veteran community, believed to be bigger than any other UK region; assess t he needs of those transitioning to civilian life and identify any gaps in services.
Psychologist Dr Cherie Armour, who is leading the research team at Ulster University, said: " For the first time we will be able to develop a full understanding of services available to Northern Ireland based veterans and their families and use that information to help safeguard their well-being by providing easy access to the right support now, and in the future."
The Military Covenant - a government pledge enshrined in law in 2011 - states that the nation is morally obliged to look after members of the army, navy and airforce and their families.
In some cases, former soldiers suffering serious physical or mental injuries can access priority medical treatment.
Unionists claim the Covenant has not been fully implemented in Northern Ireland and have been campaigning for a change in the law.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was among the biggest problems facing veterans in the region.
He said: "We believe there is still a gap between the Government's stated objectives and what has actually been delivered in Northern Ireland.
"The research will be very important in identifying the gaps in services and also in highlighting just how many veterans we have in Northern Ireland because there were tens of thousands who served during Operation Banner as well as more recent conflicts. I believe we have a much higher population than any other region and yet we are not getting the support.
"This research is timely and I look forward to their findings."
Funding of £355,000 has been provided by the Forces In Mind Trust.
Researchers are expected to start their work in the autumn and have appealed for veterans and their families to make contact.
Dr Armour added: "It provides a real opportunity to look at the specific needs of veterans here, how these needs are being met by service providers, and how veteran specific services communicate with each other - and with organisations such as the NHS and Ministry of Defence."
Anyone wishing to contribute to the research in confidence is asked to contact Dr Cherie Armour at Ulster University or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, researchers at Queen's University Belfast have been awarded more than £96,000 to explore the experiences of military personnel involved in counter-insurgency operations.
Professor John Brewer, from the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, said: "Counter-insurgency (COIN) operations are different from conventional warfare between nation states because they involve trying to deal with internal, civilian insurgency while also trying to militarily defeat several disconnected armed groups rather than formal armies.
"On the completion of COIN operations there is rarely a national narrative of celebration and honour, so ex-COIN personnel return to civilian life without the public fanfare that accompanies the ending of conventional warfare. As such, their experiences are distinctly different to those involved in more conventional wars, which can affect their reintegration when they eventually leave the armed services and seek to settle back into civilian life."
The research will focus on military personnel who served during Britain's decolonisation wars in the 1950s and 1960s, the Ulster Defence Regiment in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, and in the UK's most recent conflict in Afghanistan .
The Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) was set up to help ex-servicemen and women make a successful transition back to civilian life.
Ray Lock, FiMT chief executive, said : "The UK's armed forces have considerable experience of both counter-insurgency and major combat operations. This project for the first time will allow us to understand how the very different characteristics of the two types of operations affect people's ability to transition successfully into civilian life.
"I'm certain the findings will provide clear insights for both policy-makers and service deliverers."