More than a dozen former British soldiers who fought in Afghanistan kill themselves within two months

Veterans minister says deaths will accelerate plans for new mental health services

Kate Ng
Monday 02 March 2020 12:36
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Defence minister Tobias Ellwood apologises to relatives 'let down' by MoD over army suicides

More than a dozen former British soldiers who fought in Afghanistan have died by suicide in a short period of time, it has been reported.

The Times reported that some 14 former and serving army personnel are thought to have killed themselves in the past two months.

MP Johnny Mercer told the newspaper in an interview he was concerned over the cluster of deaths involving a “specific unit that served at a specific time in Afghanistan… the bloodiest time”.

The Minister for Defence People and Veterans was referring to veterans involved in Operation Herrick, which is the codename for all British operations conducted between 2002 and 2014 in Afghanistan.

By the end of 2014, 453 soldiers died during Operation Herrick. According to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), there were 29 coroner-confirmed suicides and open verdict deaths of army personnel who were previously deployed to Operation Herrick as of February 2018.

The recent spate of suicides will expedite government plans for new mental health services for veterans which are due to begin in April and will complement NHS programmes on problems like PTSD, addiction and debt, The Times reported Mr Mercer as saying.

He told the paper: “I want to understand at exactly what stage we could or should have intervened in that process.”

Last year, the government said it would provide funding towards a study examining risk factors in the year leading up to veterans’ suicides.

It also said the MoD's veterans study would be extended to include recent service leavers and would be “updated on an ongoing basis to provide real-time monitoring of suicides”.

“Combined, these studies will provide increasingly robust data in order to understand whether suicide in the ex-forces community is disproportionate compared to the rest of the UK general population and will identify potential interventions in order to prevent suicide,” the government has said.

In announcing the MoD’s veteran study in October 2018, former Minister for Defence, Tobias Ellwood, said: “Our Armed Forces do a magnificent job and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to each man and woman who has laid their life on the line to keep our country safe.

“Most transition successfully into civilian life once they have put away their uniforms, but we cannot afford to be complacent. Mental health problems can affect us all, and the wellbeing of our people remains a top priority.”

The MoD said Mr Mercer had given the interview in a private capacity.

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