Belfast Telegraph

We have a duty to look after troops

By Brenda Hale

As a nation we have a duty of care to those who serve in our armed forces.

This duty was formally codified as the Military Covenant back in 2000 and is meant to ensure that those who are prepared to put their lives on the line in the service of their country can expect to be treated properly and supported after their return from conflict.

It is clear, however, that the promises made in the Military Covenant are not being fully honoured.

In Northern Ireland we face the further difficulty that local veterans do not even have the same access to medical services, social housing and help with their rates as compatriots across the rest of the United Kingdom do because of the existence of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

The physical scars borne by veterans are often plain to see, but the effects on the mental health of those who served are a hidden but increasing problem among many veterans.

The impact of mental health difficulties on the lives of those who served are also much less understood by the public as a whole than physical scars.

Just under two years ago the Government received the Veterans Transition Review and committed to implementing many of its recommendations.

I invited Lord Ashcroft's team to Northern Ireland during the consultation and they did highlight issues around Section 75 and the impact upon veterans in Northern Ireland. However, this has not yet been acted upon at Westminster.

Northern Ireland makes up around 3% of the UK's population; 20% of reserve forces regularly deployed on operations come from the province.

Those men and women from Northern Ireland deserve to be treated properly.

While there are steps which must be taken across the UK to make good on the duty of care we owe the armed forces, locally our first challenge has to be the full implementation of the covenant here.

This is not about special treatment or privileges for those who served, but fairness and a recognition of sacrifices made.

Brenda Hale is a DUP MLA for Lagan Valley

Belfast Telegraph


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