Soldiers from 5 Rifles on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan (Picture: MOD).
Afghanistan

Mental health support and funding stepped up for Afghanistan veterans

Backed by £5m in funding, the projects will include a dedicated Samaritans helpline staffed with trained military volunteers.

Soldiers from 5 Rifles on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan (Picture: MOD).

Fifty-one projects, backed by £5m of funding, have been announced to help support Afghanistan veterans across the UK.

Included in the projects is a new support helpline launched by the Samaritans to provide peer-to-peer emotional support to veterans.

The new helpline is one of the projects announced from the Office for Veterans’ Affairs Afghanistan Veterans' Fund. 

It will see volunteers from the military trained to provide support and encourage mental resilience and wellbeing, according to the Office for Veterans' Affairs, which announced the new projects and funding.

The chief executive officer of Samaritans said the charity knows from received calls to its helpline that "veterans consistently make up over 70% of the calls from the military community" and they are nearly twice as likely to report suicidal thoughts than the general population.

"That's why it's so important that veterans facing a crisis can easily access support and contact a trained veteran volunteer to help improve their wellbeing," Julie Bentley said.

Other projects include increasing access to assistance dogs for veterans struggling with their mental health and providing veterans in Scotland with the chance to engage with mindfulness and recovery in nature through the Mindfulness Scotland Charity.

Watch: Officer speaks of 'mixed feelings' on Afghanistan 20-year anniversary.

Another project also looks to encourage veterans to connect with each other through sport.

Roughly £150,000 is being provided to The Forces Employment Charity, who will look to improve veterans' wellbeing through volunteering with Afghans who now live in the UK.

This will include Afghans who worked with the UK military before being eventually evacuated during Operation Pitting.

Allistair Halliday, chief exectuive officer of RFEA, The Forces Employment Charity, said the funding will allow the delivery of "vital support".

"The aim of our programme will be to enable those arriving from Afghanistan to access employment providing financial independence and inclusion in UK society," he said.

"The sustained links that we will create between UK veterans, many of whom served in the Afghanistan conflict, and those arriving from Afghanistan will create long-term benefit for both groups.

Watch: Ukraine and its impact on veterans' mental health.

The Afghanistan Veterans' Fund, which looks to support veterans of the conflict to adjust to civilian life, was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year following the West's withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Distributed by the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust, the fund will also increase support for young veterans and their families.

And the additional £5m in funding will also look to increase the accessibility of services, allowing veterans to reach both state and charitable services available to them.

Minister for Defence People and Veterans Leo Docherty said the "courage and commitment" shown by those who served in Afghanistan will "never be forgotten".

"This targeted funding for charities across the country will ensure that, regardless of location, those who have served and their families can access services easily," he said.