Concern over 'lifeline' armed forces veterans service in Scotland

By Fiona Stalker
BBC Scotland reporter

Media caption, Veteran Jack Dunlop told BBC Scotland's Fiona Stalker of his fears

The future of a support service described as a lifeline for hundreds of armed forces veterans is the focus of serious concern due to funding doubts, BBC Scotland has learned.

Veterans First Point (V1P) centres were set up in Scotland with money gathered from UK banks in Libor fines for rigging the benchmark interest rate.

That funding is about to run out.

Local health boards now face having to pick up costs, with matched support from the Scottish government.

However there are no guarantees of long-term funding.

Eight Veteran First Point regional centres were set up across Scotland, in Edinburgh (Lothian), Aberdeen (Grampian), Wishaw (Lanarkshire), Dundee (Tayside), Inverness (Highland), Irvine (Ayrshire and Arran), Galashiels (Borders), and Cardenden (Fife).

However BBC Scotland understands some Veterans First Point staff have started enquiring about other jobs due to the doubts about the service.

'Start of troubles'

Veterans such as Jack Dunlop, 73, who served with the RAF, fear losing the service and the support he sought out.

Mr Dunlop, who is originally from Ayrshire and now lives in Aberdeen, told BBC Scotland he has suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) since the 1960s.

He said it was triggered after he witnessed a plane crash and had to help in the aftermath, which included picking up body parts.

Mr Dunlop said: "That was the start of my troubles.

"You avoided people, you were frightened to go out, I could not go to the hairdresser, I could not go to the optician, any situation you were trapped, even in a telephone box."

Image source, AFP

He said of Veterans First Point: "It has given me hope, we can talk, it's a close knit family.

"It's frightening, what happens now? Why should a good thing fail?"

'Deserve support'

Neil Murray, of Veterans First Point Grampian, said: "I think we are scraping the surface, there's a massive veteran community.

"The veterans and their families deserve the support we provide, the have earned it."

The Scottish government confirmed it was funding 50% of the total cost of each service with health boards match-funding the remainder where there was evidence of an ongoing commitment to the service in that area.

The offer currently allows funding of the service to the end of the year.

An NHS Grampian spokesman said: "NHS Grampian provides a range of services to support veterans and, following the announcement of changes to funding for Veterans First Point, we are currently reviewing options to meet the needs of users of the service."

An NHS Highland spokesman said: "NHS Highland agreed to take part in the project in order to explore alternative models of service provision to veterans.

"It was our understanding that during the life of the project we would contribute to the evidence base and that this would support us in service design in the future.

"From the outset, NHS Highland advised that it would not be able to provide a partnership funding commitment to V1P Highland."

He added: "Given the positive start to such a new service we would be keen to explore any future options for alternative funding to continue to further develop and deliver V1P."

Scottish Liberal Democrat North East Scotland MSP Mike Rumbles said: "It would be a scandal if this was allowed to fall.

"It's a real help to ex-service personnel."

'Long-term commitment'

Speaking on BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme, Col Martin Gibson, chairman of Veterans Scotland, said: "It would be a tragedy if veterans who are now being well supported by Veterans First Point centres across Scotland lost that service."

He said the service was seeking a "long-term, sustainable commitment".

He added: "The Scottish government has said, in renewing our commitments, that they will continue this service and that's what we hope for."

SNP MSP James Dornan told BBC Radio Scotland that the Scottish government takes its commitment to veterans "very seriously".

He added: "They have shown that by the amount of money that they have put in, the money that they have put it to Hollybush House, the money that they put in to Veterans First Points just now.

"I am sure that they will continue to try and make sure that these organisations are working in some capacity or another.

"But we shouldn't be escaping the fact here that it is the Westminster government that withdraw this money."

Andrew Bowie, Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, said: "I think this is far too important to be used as a political football.

"Like Mike Rumbles, I think it would a scandal if these centres were forced to close.

"I think it is incumbent on everybody to get around the table and find a solution to the long-term future funding of these centres."

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