Following the welcome withdrawal of British Combat troops from Afghanistan it is tempting to think that the problems faced by our servicemen and women are coming to an end. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case.
This article is designed to help practitioners in the Family Court identify sources of help for ex or serving servicemen and women and to help you navigate through the bewildering array of choice.
As this is an article about servicemen and for servicemen I’m afraid that it will be full of acronyms, as the services love a SLAMOA (a stupid, long and meaningless abbreviation). I apologise in advance.
It’s not just acronyms that require explanation. The service charities have their own terms of art for describing those that they help. Servicemen and women are those currently in uniform. They describe everyone else as a “Veteran” so it’s generally, although not exclusively, going to be Veterans that we come across in the Family Court.
This article was inspired the problems encountered whilst representing a veteran who was in a marriage of long standing and to which he and his wife were committed. He suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his service and he needed effective help. His psychiatric report read as follows:
“He informed me that he had seen a counsellor for his symptoms, but recalled that she had found his account of his battlefield experiences to be distressing and had missed a number of appointments with him before eventually terminating the therapy” [altered a little to preserve confidentiality!]
As the friend to whom I refer below observed, “What your client needs is a therapist with some spine!”
The hunt for a therapist who was a bit more use was on, but where to start?
The military charities
These seemed the obvious place to look for help; but the first thing that was apparent was that are a bewildering number of Military Charities, some well-known, some terribly obscure.
Perhaps the best known is the Royal British Legion (The Legion)1 famous for the annual poppy appeal. Equally well known is Help for Heroes a charity which has risen from a standing start to do a fantastic job of fundraising and supporting those very seriously wounded. A close third in a tight race for public profile is SSAFA3, (which stands for Soldiers, Sailors and Airmens Families Association). Then come the three Services own charities – The Soldier’s Charity (formerly The Army Benevolent fund/ABF), the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) and the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund (RAFBF). In addition to these well-known charities there are many, many others such as Combat Stress, the War Widow’s Association and BLESMA which have all been created to help specific, often ‘niche’ veteran issues. There’s even the Forces Children’s Trust which is a charity devoted to helping children whose father or mother has died or has sustained life threatening injuries whilst serving as a member of the British Armed Forces. There is then a bewildering array of smaller (and sometimes dubious) others.
Fortunately it’s not necessary to list all or even most of the specialist charities nor to remember their names as they have an umbrella organisation known as which shelters under the bewilderingly obscure SLAMOA of COBSEO which presumably tells you all you need to know about it!
The point to note is that when it comes to delivering support where it’s needed the main Service charities work very closely together – we just need to tap into the right place.
So how do your client access the help that’s available?
After a frustrating hour or two of research I phoned a friend. In this case a regional director for the Soldier’s Charity. He explained that to make things simple for the veterans, the Legion and SSAFA are usually the first port-of-call. A case worker will be appointed. They will contact the veteran, often within a few hours and arrange to assess their needs. They will then point them in the right direction and will remain on hand to guide them throughout. Contact details are all below. I saw this done by a colleague at Court. They phoned just before going into a directions hearing. By the time it was finished their client had a case worker, an appointment and a telephone number to call. By the next hearing a couple of days later there had been an initial assessment and their client was waiting for the support which was expected imminently. It really can be that quick.
At that point it’s job done for the busy family practitioner not least because once Service Charities have identified relevant need they will fund therapy or support in a way that seems quite miraculous to those of us used to battering our heads against the social services and the health service to try to get much needed help.
Who pays for it?
Once need is confirmed and a solution identified, one of the Service charities will step in. For example Combat Stressx, a very useful charity in our line of work, have funding streams in place to enable them to move at short notice. It’s all a very different experience to making part 25 compliant applications late on a Friday at the end of a busy list in front of a Judge who finds the difference between “necessary” and “overwhelmingly desirable” an irresistible opportunity to waste a few more hours of our time.
What about support for families?
It’s not just veterans who need support. The stresses and strains on the families of those Serving and veterans can also be acute, although hopefully less so now that the endless cycle of combat tours has ended, at least until Latvia kicks off. The Services charities are also set up to fund help for families where it’s needed. Again this is best accessed through SSAFA or the Legion.
And finally is he a veteran or delusional?
It’s a sad reflection on society that many seek to blame active service for their problems when the nearest that they’ve actually been to serving their country has been spending their dole cheque in the Docker’s fists.
Those of us who practice in areas where there is a high concentration of veterans will all have our own techniques for separating those who have really served from those who just think that it sounds like a good excuse to beat their wives or abuse their children.
Here are a few of them. Every veteran will know their number; ask her what it was. If she says she can’t remember, alarm bells should ring loudly. Every veteran will have kept their discharge papers (unless they were dishonourably discharged) ask to see them. If they can’t produce them alarm bells should ring although perhaps a bit less loudly than if they don’t know their number. Every veteran will be able to tell you what their last unit was, if it’s an unintelligible string of letters and numbers pronounced individually it’s probably true. If they refuse to tell you because it’s a secret, it’s Walter Mitty time as even the most secret organisation has a plausible cover story.
The Armed Forces are keen to stress the moral obligation between the nation, the government and the Armed Forces; they call it the Armed Forces Covenant. This has nothing to do with that. The resources that identified in this article are the Services and the Service ‘family’ (i.e. charities) looking after their own. They are there to help, know what they are doing and can make our (legal) lives easier; use them.
With my thanks to Charles Dunphie, DL, of the Soldiers’ Charity for his help.
Footnotes and useful websites
- The Royal British Legion.
Helpline: 0808 802 8080,
Helpline: 0800 731 4880
First published in Family Affairs in 2015