The air was thick with emotion as West Sussex councillors discussed work being carried out to help the county’s former Armed Forces personnel.
At a meeting of the full council on Friday, members were updated on the Armed Forces Covenant, which provides support to those who have left the service with issues such as homelessness, loneliness and mental health.
The county signed up to a covenant in 2012, earned a silver award for its work in 2017 and has pledged to achieve the gold.
David Edwards (Con, Bersted) served eight years with the Royal Engineers and continues to receive treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
He urged the council to lobby the government for more help for veterans, saying they ‘know what is happening, but seem to be oblivious to it’.
Mr Edwards praised groups such as the Building Heroes education foundation at Brinsbury College, and the Littlehampton Armed Forces & Veterans Breakfast Club.
Building Heroes offers five-week courses to veterans and service leavers, giving them a basic grounding in artisan skills.
The breakfast club is a nationally admired support group, chaired by Ian Buckland (Lib Dem, Littlehampton Town), which attracts around 120 people each week.
Mr Edwards added: “It leaves a really bad taste in the mouth as someone who has served, and someone who still suffers, that the only way I can get support is through these people rather than through the places I should be getting it from.”
He also mentioned the work of a group called All Call Signs.
As well as providing peer support, the group has a countrywide network of people who search for missing veterans via a social media beacon alert system.
Mr Edwards said: “It’s incredibly successful. People are found very quickly – not always a happy ending, I have to say – but nevertheless it provides help and support again for those people who really need it.”
Choked with emotion, Mr Edwards asked the council to work with as many groups as possible ‘because there is a real need out there’.
He took his seat to applause from around the chamber.
This newspaper and its sister titles have highlighted campaigners calls on the Government to introduce a system to comprehensively record veteran suicides to help officials get a handle on what is feared to be a spiralling problem.
Dr James Walsh (Lib Dem, Littlehampton East) was a Royal Naval Reserve from 1973 to 1993, retiring as Director Medical Reserves as Surgeon Captain.
He said: “The Armed Forces of this country deserve our unremitting thanks and support – not just when they’re serving, because they have a superb support network in the armed services.
“Where they need our support most is when they are leaving and when they have left the Armed Forces.”
Leader Louise Goldsmith has a son in the Forces.
She recited a line from Rudyard Kipling about the way soldiers were treated after World War One: “And it’s Tommy this and Tommy that, and Tommy, go away/But it’s ‘Thank you, Mister Atkins,’ when the band begins to play’.
Mrs Goldsmith said: “Thank goodness we are nowhere near that, and I think the considerable efforts that we are making through the Armed Forces Covenant is absolutely right.”
Thanking Mr Edwards for everything he had said, she added: “It doesn’t matter who you are, post traumatic stress is a sleeper in your body and it may sleep forever.
“But one day there may be a bang of a car going into another car, it may be somebody shouting in the street, and it’s so small and it can flip somebody and change their lives.
“We never know – some will never develop and some will – and some will go down such a downward slope there is no end but the ultimate.
“And there are some that will have a long journey back.
“We should always be eternally grateful.”
Veterans working for the county council gathered outside County Hall before the discussion to celebrate the authority’s support for the Armed Forces community.
The annual Armed Forces Covenant report highlights the positive work undertaken by the council to support the Armed Forces community in West Sussex over the last year.
Recent examples include the Armed Forces App which launched in January 2019 and has now been downloaded over 600 times. The app gives serving personnel, veterans, and their families as well as public sector organisations information about local services offering support.
Debbie Kennard, cabinet member for safer, stronger communities, said: “Some fantastic work has been taking place over the last year to support the armed forces community as this report shows.
“Here at West Sussex County Council, we are committed to making sure that veterans are given the support they need and deserve.”
West Sussex County Council is an Armed Forces friendly employer and welcomes ex-service persons to apply to work there. It offers a guaranteed interview to any veterans who meet the essential criteria.
The county council is also part of Forces Connect South East, a cross-border partnership scheme with other county councils in the region.
For more information about the Armed Forces Covenant, visit the county council’s website.
To download the app, search ‘Forces Connect’ in Apple’s App Store or the Google Play Store.