Council commits to supporting West Sussex veterans

Noel Atkins, elected to the county council in 2017, called for more support for veterans in West Sussex
Noel Atkins, elected to the county council in 2017, called for more support for veterans in West Sussex

West Sussex County Council has reinforced its pledge to support the county’s veterans by setting its sights on a Military Covenant gold award.

The authority, which signed a Military Community Covenant in July 2012, already holds a silver award in recognition of its efforts to aid ex-servicemen and women and their families.

At a County Hall meeting on Friday July 20, members voted unanimously in support of a proposal from Lt Cdr Noel Atkins (Con, Durrington & Salvington) to work towards the gold.

Among the tasks ahead is the development of more drop-in centres and breakfast clubs, which allow veterans to socialise and access any care they may need.

Mr Atkins, who served in the Royal Naval Reserves for 20 years and was decorated by the Queen in 1980, shared a drop-in centre success story with members.

He explained that 15 veterans had attended the session at Worthing town hall on July 11, where representatives from eight service providers were present.

Six of the veterans chose to ask for their help.

Mr Atkins also stressed the need for ‘substantial funds’ to be raised to assist veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

He was supported by James Walsh (Lib Dem, Littlehampton East), who served as a Royal Navy Medical Officer from 1968-73, and a Royal Naval Reserve from 1973-93.

Dr Walsh told the meeting ‘a lifetime of gratitude’ was owed to service personnel.

Speaking about the mental health problems and homelessness which affects many of them, he added: “It’s a blight on our society that we allow that to continue.”

Ian Buckland (Lib Dem, Littlehampton Town) said: “We need to put our money where our mouth is to support our ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen to make sure they get help and support.”

Anne Jones (Con, Burgess Hill East) told the meeting that, if the right work was put in, lives could be saved and quality of life improved.

Council leader Louise Goldsmith recently attended a breakfast club in Littlehampton with Mr Buckland.

She described the camaraderie shown by the veterans who attended and stressed to the meeting that she was keen to start working on developing similar clubs elsewhere.

Earlier this month, this newspaper joined other Johnston Press titles across the country in highlighting the hidden epidemic of veterans who go on to take their own lives.

A Johnston Press investigation found no comprehensive official records are kept of the number of British ex-servicemen and women dying as a result of suicide.

At least 16 veterans are feared to have taken their own life since January, of whom at least seven are known to have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many of the cases uncovered during the investigation revealed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a major issue facing those who left the forces.

One ex-serviceman who battled suicidal thoughts backed the campaign.

Sussex coroners, meanwhile, were quiet on military suicide figures amid calls for better recording of veteran deaths.