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Armed Forces Week: Making the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran

This is an opinion piece by The Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Chief of staff at No.10, published in The Express to mark the start of Armed Forces Week.

"Throughout my childhood and teenage years, it was rare to see individual military personnel out and about on the streets in their uniforms in a way that we do today.

The terror threat to our service men and women from the IRA meant that the camouflage fatigues - a visual symbol of national pride, unity and belonging for those who serve – were often banned from being worn outside of military bases.

My first real memory of our armed forces and the significant sacrifice they make on our behalf therefore didn’t come until I was 10 years old.

Margaret Thatcher had just dispatched a Royal Navy taskforce to the Falkland Islands and each evening I would crouch in front of the living room TV to watch the news reports filed by the attached press corps.

I remember the striking footage of the Harrier jump jets scrambling from HMS Hermes to the now infamous words of BBC war correspondent Brian Hanrahan: 'I counted them all out, and I counted them all back.'

And of course, the jubilant scenes of the aircraft carrier’s safe return to Portsmouth 108 days after she left, the dockside flanked by thousands of people waving Union Jacks.

It is those early childhood memories of sacrifice, pride and duty that came through so clearly on our TV screens - coupled with the lived experiences of those veterans I meet on a weekly basis – that underpin my ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran.

But if we talk the talk of that ambition, we must walk the walk.

So that’s why, as we move towards the national celebration of Armed Forces Day this coming weekend, we are investing in a new digital identification service for veterans. This will enable government services and our fantastic charity sector to better identify and prioritise our veterans.

Coming on top of Operation Courage, the more than £18m investment to get veterans access to better mental healthcare, the ID service will deliver real change, giving us the capability to identify veterans and get help more quickly to those who need targeted support in health, housing or employment.

We are also taking steps to maximise the employment opportunities for the veterans’ community, recognising that the unique skills they have make them ideal recruits for a range of jobs in areas such as cyber security and logistics.

All government departments now offer a scheme that guarantees veterans progress to the next recruitment stage, with 800 ex-military personnel so far being offered a variety of roles across the Civil Service.

And we know the positive impact veterans can have on those who have strayed from the straight and narrow, which is why we have launched a scheme to recruit them as prison officers.

For every veteran I meet, for every individual story I hear, access to support and employment services are the most pressing issues that they want to see resolved.

Nearly six months on from the launch of our Veterans Strategy Action Plan, backed by £70m of funding, we can be encouraged that we have already delivered over a fifth of the 60 commitments we made.

We must now harness that progress and I am committed to keeping veterans at the heart of this Government’s agenda so that those who have given so much for us do not feel invisible or left behind."

You may also like to read - Progress on support for veterans as country marks Armed Forces Week

Source: Office for Veterans Affairs - All content is available under the Open Government Licence v3.0, except where otherwise stated© Crown copyright

Image: Richard Townshend, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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