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The Royal British Legion is failing Northern Ireland veterans by closing Bennet House facility

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Public outcry: veterans and families hold a vigil to protest against the closure of the Royal British Legion’s Bennet House in Portrush, Co Antrim

Public outcry: veterans and families hold a vigil to protest against the closure of the Royal British Legion’s Bennet House in Portrush, Co Antrim

The Royal British Legion’s Bennet House

The Royal British Legion’s Bennet House

Public outcry: veterans and families hold a vigil to protest against the closure of the Royal British Legion’s Bennet House in Portrush, Co Antrim

The news that Bennet House, the Royal British Legion respite centre in Portrush, is to close will be devastating news to many veterans and their families.

The argument that providing support for veterans and the armed forces community is becoming more complex and therefore more expensive is a fair argument but it may well not properly take account of some major and relevant factors.

Firstly, what does Great Britain have that Northern Ireland doesn't have?

Well, for one, they have ease of access; there is no restriction on veterans seeking help in any part of Great Britain, whilst in Northern Ireland many veterans live in areas where they simply cannot ask for or seek help for personal security reasons.

Defence is not a devolved issue and many of the issues affecting veterans need to be dealt with via a Member of Parliament.

Yet for hundreds of thousands of veterans here, their MP is an abstentionist and in the main most veterans would lack the trust in the first place to take an issue to them.

Secondly, the system of caseworkers does not help veterans in Northern Ireland. If a veteran has an issue he rings a number that puts him through to a call centre in Wales where they are evaluated and then forwarded on to a caseworker in Northern Ireland.

With respect, what does a call centre operator in Wales know about life as a veteran in Northern Ireland?

The reality is that Bennet House was not just a respite centre where veterans could visit for a week or two weeks' break. It was not just a place where a family member held comfort that their elderly relative still had the armed forces community arm wrapped around them.

It was a symbol of the Royal British Legion's commitment to veterans and their families in Northern Ireland.

It was the moral component that held safe the fact that service meant support and that support outstripped the financial implications.

The decision to close this facility will heighten the sense of abandonment that many veterans feel and it will leave them asking what commitment there is to them from the Royal British Legion to Northern Ireland.

For the Director General to argue that it will allow for more support for Royal British Legion care homes - while we have none in Northern Ireland - highlights just how out of touch they are with the needs of veterans here.

There is no other way to put this - whether you used the Bennet House facility or not, whether you know someone who did or a family that took comfort from simply just knowing it was available, the reality is that the Royal British Legion is failing veterans in Northern Ireland.

The Royal British Legion failed them over the implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant, it has failed them over issues around mental health and it is failing them now by taking away the only physical symbol of support veterans can relate to.

As veterans in Northern Ireland have been forced into the shadows, Bennet House was one of the only lights available to them.

The Royal British Legion has now switched that light off.

Doug Beattie MC is a UUP MLA for Upper Bann

Belfast Telegraph