I’m writing this for “Frank”, who I met by chance at a soup kitchen. Frank was clearly in a bad state and had been in and out of prison over many years. As we chatted, something about his bearing hinted that underneath the scruffy exterior was someone with a military background. I took a punt and asked him when he had left the armed forces.
He told me in a matter-of-fact way how he had left the Army nearly 30 years ago and that not a day had passed without him missing it.
We talked about his service in Northern Ireland, how he’d experienced some tough times, and how it had clearly affected him afterwards. He had missed the routine of military life and fallen into a life of petty crime. I asked why he had never gone to the Royal British Legion for help, and two words shot back: “Too proud.”
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
1/20 Glynn Barrell
Glyn Barrell is among the veterans hoping to benefit from the self-build scheme in Plymouth
2/20 Rachel Holliday
Rachel Holliday is converting a police station into a hostel
3/20 Androcles Scicluna
Veteran Androcles Scicluna says performing boosted his confidence
4/20 Christopher Cole
Christopher Cole, 51, from London, spent three years in the Army but left in 1982
5/20 Maurillia Simpson
Former servicewoman Maurillia Simpson with the medals she won at last year’s Invictus Games
Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
6/20 Martin Rutledge
Head of The Soldiers’ Charity, Martin Rutledge, says charities sometimes allow emotion to dictate their choices
7/20 Ben Griffin
Ben Griffin wants to open people’s eyes to the cycle of political violence
8/20 Robin Horsfall
Robin Horsfall, who fought in the Falklands and helped end the Iranian embassy siege
9/20 Mark Hayward
A bed for the night and food helped Mark Hayward out of misfortune
10/20 Ashley Rosser
Ashley Rosser, who served in the RAF, at the Veterans Aid hostel in east London
11/20 Dave Henson
Britain's Invictus Games captain Dave Henson says veterans’ charities helped rebuild his life
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
12/20 Hugh Milroy
Hugh Milroy dispels myths about war-zone veterans through his work as the CEO of Veterans Aid
13/20 Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor
Former soldiers Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor work at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Solihull under a covenant connecting veterans with employers
14/20 Mark McKillion
Mark McKillion's experience of living on the street eventually left him feeling as though the only way to escape was to end his life. He survived his desperate jump from Westminster Bridge, and VA's help has restored his "faith in humanity"
Nigel, a navy veteran, remembers living on the beach in the run-up to Christmas, when it rained every day for a week. He slept on a bench for seven years whilst suffering from Parkinson's disease.
16/20 Keith Cooper
Before Keith Cooper had his place confirmed at Avondale House in Newcastle, he was working out whether he could afford to buy a tent to live in
17/20 Simon Weston
Simon Weston, a Falklands War veteran, said even something as simple as a cup of tea can be an important step in getting the life of a homeless veteran back on track.
18/20 Ian Palmer, professor of military psychiatry
Ian Palmer, the first professor of military psychiatry to the British Armed Forces, says that the depiction of all ex-service personnel having post-traumatic stress disorder may stop people who really need help from getting it
19/20 Douglas Cameron
Evgeny Lebedev with Douglas Cameron, who had a hernia operation while serving in Burma
Johnnie Shand Kidd
20/20 Veterans Aid
General Sir Mike Jackson, President of ABF The Soldiers' Charity, called for donations to the Homeless Veterans appeal
Frank’s story is typical of a small number of veterans. But like many of them, Frank’s previous service was never considered in any of his court appearances. He didn’t raise it for fear of bringing the military “into disrepute”.
The military court martial system is configured to understand the impact service can have on some veterans, but the civilian justice system is not. That’s why I put forward Labour proposals a year ago calling for the Government to consult on how to improve rehabilitation services for veterans who find themselves in the courts.
The initial reaction from ministers was positive. An official cross-party review was launched and I agreed to serve as a formal adviser. But it lost all momentum when the chair, Rory Stewart, was replaced by Stephen Phillips, who began juggling the review with his highly paid work as a barrister.
The review lagged behind schedule and was published just before Christmas – six months late. What’s more, it was no longer conducted on a cross-party basis. I was culled from the list of formal advisers and heard complaints from other advisers that they were not properly consulted.
There are some useful recommendations in the report, such as formally recording how many veterans end up in prison. But it fails to address how some veterans can be prevented from falling into a life of crime – a glaring omission. And the Veterans Treatment Courts model, hugely successful in the US, was dismissed. Surely this should have been investigated more thoroughly?
We should not tire of saying that where people – like Frank – have served our country in the armed forces, we have a lifelong responsibility to look after them. That’s not about being soft on crime, it’s about properly understanding the effect that operational service can have and cutting reoffending. That’s in everyone’s interests.
Dan Jarvis is a Labour justice spokesman and a former major in the Parachute RegimentReuse content