Homeless Veterans Appeal: 'Underwhelmed' charity chief says Armed Forces Covenant has failed to improve lives significantly

Veterans Aid head compares MoD report to 'a pat on the head from a vaguely connected relative'

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The Independent Online

The Government is “disconnected from the reality” of life faced by the country’s most vulnerable veterans, the head of a leading military charity has said.

Dr Hugh Milroy, the CEO of Veterans Aid, which works to combat homelessness among the UK’s ex-servicemen and women, was responding to the annual Ministry of Defence report on the Armed Forces Covenant, the promise of care for Britain’s troops enshrined in law by David Cameron three years ago.

The Prime Minister first announced his support for the principles of the Covenant to be written into law while on board the HMS Ark Royal in 2010 and has continued to trumpet its progress since the Armed Forces Act came into force the following year.

But Dr Milroy likened the latest report on the Covenant, published on Tuesday, to “a pat on the head from a vaguely connected relative” which left him feeling “completely underwhelmed”.

“From a Veterans Aid perspective, the report seems disconnected from the reality of the lives of those veterans in crisis we see on a daily basis,” he said. “The Covenant must be for the good of the veterans in every community, throughout the land – not the greater good of organisations, including Parliament.

“In its current form the Covenant did not significantly improve the lives of the many veterans who approached us for help last year. Speaking as a veteran... I find myself completely underwhelmed. It feels like a pat on the head from a vaguely connected relative leaving the question ‘So what?’ hanging in the air.”

Major General (Ret’d) Martin Rutledge, chief executive of ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, said many military families remained ignorant of the Covenant and the benefits that it could bring them

Veterans Aid is one of two charities being supported by The Independent’s Christmas appeal. Last year it saw 500 people at its drop-in centre in central London and provided 21,300 nights of accommodation for veterans. It believes that without its help, some of its most vulnerable clients would be dead within five years.

Dr Milroy stressed that he applauded the goals of the Covenant and said he believed politicians of all persuasions wanted to do well by the military community. But he pointed out that nobody involved with the MoD report had contacted Veterans Aid for its views.

The report itself also stated that a large number of families whose relatives are on active duty with the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force have never even heard of the Covenant, despite the Government’s efforts to promote it.

Major General (Ret’d) Martin Rutledge, chief executive of ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, which is also being supported by The Independent’s appeal, said the Government urgently needed to address the fact that many military families remained ignorant of the Covenant and the benefits that it could bring them.

“The report touches on one of the biggest issues we face in getting help to the veterans who need it – letting them know it’s there,” he said. “It may be that a sizable proportion of Service families are unaware of the Armed Forces Covenant and what it can mean to them. This mirrors the care that the military charities provide – there is always help available to all who need it and letting them know it exists can be a challenge.”

A Government spokesperson said: “This whole country wants to make sure veterans and their families are supported properly and treated with the dignity they deserve. That is why this Government put the Armed Forces Covenant into law in 2011.

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“Veterans with urgent housing needs are always given high priority for social housing, and those who have recently been discharged do not lose their qualification rights because of the requirement to move from base to base.

“Every local council has signed up to the Community Covenant. More than 350 companies have signed up to the Corporate Covenant. Those councils and organisations need to deliver on their promise and help ensure those who have bravely served their country are not disadvantaged by their service.”