Vertical Markets

Study of leavers with a physical condition

by Mark Rowe

In recent years we have learned more about how armed forces leavers may find it hard to return to Civvy Street, with mental trauma as a result of their service to the country. But what of those leavers with a physical condition or injury as they transition out of the Armed Forces and into civilian life? Hence research by the University of Central Lancashire and the University of Salford.

Their initial findings suggest that some service leavers can face difficulties during their medical board and discharge. The researchers suggest there’s a need for a clear, transparent and personalised discharge process, with better communication of decisions and appropriate timeframes, to enable the completion of resettlement courses and aid preparation for civilian life.

The research, which was commissioned by Forces in Mind Trust, also found links between physical and mental health. Many leavers when asked reported a subsequent impact on their mental health, in particular having to adjust to a new identity of being both ‘disabled’ and losing their status in the armed forces.

Some described feelings of stress resulting from financial uncertainty caused by not knowing if, or when, they would receive financial compensation, as well as the potential impact of their physical condition on their ability to find employment in the civilian job market.

This interim report presents findings from the first stage of a two-year project due to report in the autumn of 2021.

Ray Lock, Chief Executive of the Trust says: “We decided to commission this research as very little is known about the experiences of Service personnel who leave the Armed Forces with a physical condition which was acquired in service or as a result of service. The research team have already uncovered areas of challenge for this diverse cohort and identified where improvements need to be made. The next stage will delve further into the issues, going back to the participants to explore their journeys as they navigate the civilian world, while continuing to engage with stakeholders to ensure that the challenges are fully understood and acted upon.

“This approach to action research will ensure better chances of successful transition for the greatest number of Service leavers, and underlines our strategic intent to deliver substantial impact across all our programmes.”

Dr Celia Hynes, Senior Engagement Officer at the University of Central Lancashire, has led the project. She said: “The people we spoke to said more clarity was needed around the medical discharge process and that support should be provided on a longer-term basis once people are discharged. It was also evident that leaving service with a physical illness or injury impacted greatly on a person’s mental health, so greater support was needed in this area.

“We are looking forward to the next phase of the research which will provide insight into the journeys that each person has travelled since our initial contact.”

Professor Lisa Scullion, from the Sustainable Housing & Urban Studies Unit (SHUSU) at the University of Salford, said: “These initial findings have already highlighted practical changes which could deliver huge improvements for our Service leavers as they transition to civilian life. As the project continues, we will continue to push for evidence-based, long-term solutions to these challenges.”

Separately, a new report, The mental health and treatment needs of UK ex-military personnel, by Dr Laura Goodwin (University of Liverpool) and Dr Deirdre MacManus (King’s College London) and funded by Forces in Mind Trust, assessed UK veterans who served during military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also examined support available through NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services which provide psychological therapies to patients with mild to moderate mental health disorders.

Although most ex-Service personnel adapt well when entering to civilian life, the research found that overall, veterans were more likely to report common mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and alcohol misuse, than non-veterans.

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