Begging Row: Military on defensive over homeless: Christopher Bellamy finds officers sceptical about the Crisis report

SENIOR military officers and defence civil servants expressed surprise yesterday at a report that found a quarter of the single homeless had served in the armed forces.

High-ranking officers made their comments after a study by the homeless charity Crisis, published in the Independent on Sunday, revealed that many of the homeless ex-servicemen had physical or mental health problems. But they warned the statistics could be misleading as they claim they refer to a tiny minority of ex-service personnel and not to those made redundant as part of recent cuts.

One senior officer said that any genuine ex-serviceman who could prove his service would get immediate help from the relevant service benevolent fund.

The study to be published this week criticised the Government for doing too little to help those leaving the forces to adjust to civilian life. The timing of the report is particularly embarrassing after the Ministry of Defence invested in a widely publicised scheme to persuade employers to take on ex-service personnel, and in the run-up to the D-Day commemorations in which many ex-servicemen and women are taking part. A senior officer said that many homeless ex-servicemen had become victims of the circumstances they had tried to escape when they joined up.

Many joined the services to get away from home or because of a poor background and often the armed forces offered opportunities greater than they would have found in civilian life. When some of these people left, their original circumstances might come back to haunt them. The senior officer said this was not the services' fault or because of inadequate efforts to resettle them.

No defence ministers were available to comment yesterday. An MoD spokesman said: 'You could find a quarter who'd done office work, a quarter who'd done manual work. The military is also a stop in many people's lives - they sign on for short periods with no intention of making a career. So flagging up a quarter as ex-service is not the most startling statistic.'

The report said a significant proportion of those interviewed in the study, Falling Out, had care backgrounds or unsettled childhoods before joining up and could not return to their family.