Veterans

'We Need To Get Our Arm Around' Afghanistan Veterans, Armed Forces Minister Says

James Heappey told Forces News that now is "the right time to be focusing" on the mental health of Afghanistan veterans.

The Armed Forces Minister has told Forces News now is the time to support veterans who served in Afghanistan.

James Heappey said there have been "far too many suicides from brave young men and women who served in our Armed Forces, particularly in Afghanistan, over the last decade".

He added veterans "will be feeling particularly vulnerable as a consequence of what has happened in Afghanistan over the last couple of weeks".

It comes after Western forces completed the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, with the final British troops leaving the country on 28 August.

Mr Heappey added: "As a Government, as a set of military charities, as regimental associations and as the wider community beyond, we need to get our arm around our Afghan veterans and keep their chin up at a time when it’s all too easy, potentially, for them to let their shoulders drop and start to question whether it was all worth it."

Watch: Last week, military charity Combat Stress said the number of people turning to them for support had doubled since the recent events in Afghanistan. 

Mr Heappey also said he wants to encourage support for the wider veteran community who served in Afghanistan, as well as personnel who helped evacuate UK nationals and Afghan former staff from the country.

"I want the country to feel a sense of ownership of our Afghan veterans and to want to seek them out and say how proud we are of what they did," he said.

"Our regimental associations I know are all hard at work reaching out to those who served in Afghanistan and reminding them of the support that’s available."

Mr Heappey's comments come after Combat Stress, a charity providing mental health services to veterans, said it had received double the average number of daily calls after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.

On 16 August, staff received 70 calls, a 125% increase on the usual number; a further 50 calls on 17 August – a 61% increase; and a 103% increase – 63 calls – on 18 August.

The charity's staff blamed the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan for the increase.

Watch: Timeline of British forces in Afghanistan.

Last month, the UK's most severely injured British soldier to survive the war in Afghanistan said it was for "absolutely nothing".

Ben Parkinson, a Lance Bombardier, lost his legs and suffered a broken spine and pelvis after his vehicle hit a landmine in Afghanistan in 2006.

Speaking to BBC Yorkshire, Mr Parkinson told of his disappointment about the country's situation, saying that the Taliban takeover has left people thinking: "What was it all for?".

"It must be terrible for someone who lost a member of their family for absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing at all.

"We've just turned our backs on them." 

However, another Afghanistan veteran recently told Forces News he is "very happy with the sacrifices" made by military personnel in the country.

Mr Heappey's comments came before the Prime Minister pledged an additional £5m to military charities to help increase mental health support for veterans.

If you or someone you know needs support at this time, you can find more information by visiting the British Army website and the Government's website.

Further details about support available can be found on our website.