The survey, which formed part of his annual update to the Veterans' Transition Review, found the average estimate of the proportion of veterans with physical, emotional or mental health problems was 54%. More than three quarters thought mental health problems were more likely to happen (and more than a quarter that they were "much more likely" to happen) to former members of the Forces compared to people in general.
82% of the public thought mental health issues were among the most common problems faced by people leaving the Forces - ahead of "problems adjusting to a civilian environment" (65%), "physical injuries or physical health problems" (61%) and "problems finding a good new job" (41%). In focus groups, members of the public associated Service leavers with qualities including discipline and leadership, but often spontaneously raised problems including mental health disorders, aggression, addiction and homelessness.
In the three years to April 2017, 13.4% of those leaving the Forces were medically discharged, including 7.45% due to musculoskeletal disorders or injuries, and 2.37% due to a mental health condition. Whole military population studies by the King's Centre for Military Health Research have found that the overall rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder rose from 4% to 6% in the ten years to 2014-16, compared to 4.4% in the general population.
Commenting on the findings, Lord Ashcroft said:
"Military service can be dangerous, and those who need help after they have served should get the very best available. But the great majority of those leaving the Forces go on to lead normal, healthy, productive lives. They have a vast amount to offer. The idea that they are likely to be damaged is wrong, and creates a barrier both to those seeking civilian work, and to recruitment into the Armed Forces. That is why my report calls for the government to adopt a new approach to changing these misguided perceptions."
In his report, which has been delivered to the Prime Minister and Tobias Ellwood, Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Lord Ashcroft recommends that this should be a task for the newly established Veterans Board, drawing on expertise from outside Whitehall. He concludes: "Improvements will not come from doing more of what we are doing now, or even doing it better. It will require a new approach, bringing in expertise that government offices do not have, and must be driven with leadership and sustained energy at the highest level."
The annual report, in which Lord Ashcroft reviews progress on the delivery of changes he recommended in the 2014 Review, finds improvements in areas including career transition, the handover of medical cases from Defence Medical Services to the NHS, and the creation of a single point of contact for Forces charities.
However, Lord Ashcroft reiterates concerns, raised in previous reports, that provision throughout the UK remains uneven, with Service leavers and veterans in Northern Ireland still at a disadvantage compared to those in England, Scotland and Wales.
1. Annual Medical Discharges In The UK Regular Armed Forces, 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2017, MOD, July 2017
2. The Mental Health Of The Armed Forces, King's Centre for Military Health Research, July 2017
Notes to Editors
Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC was appointed the Prime Minister's Special Representative on Veterans' Transition in September 2012. His 2017 report, with full details of his research, is at http://www.veteranstransition.co.uk. The initial Veterans' Transition Review, published in 2014, is also available along with his annual follow-up reports for 2015 and 2016.
In the research, 2,001 people were interviewed online between 23 and 27 June 2017. In addition, eight focus groups with people from a range of ages and social backgrounds were held in Nottingham, Edinburgh, Bristol and Londonbetween 15 and 22 June 2017.
The Review's Terms of Reference were "to review the policies, legislation, regulations, guidelines and provision in place for the government to meet its commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant with respect to veterans' transition to civilian life, with a view to making recommendations that will ensure it is complete and successful." Lord Ashcroft made recommendations in fields including health, education and training, employment, finance, information, and the charity sector.
A full biography of Lord Ashcroft is available at http://www.lordashcroft.com/about/