The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 21st February:
Here in Barnsley we are immensely proud of the service of our friends, family members and neighbours in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
From Armed Forces Day to the Remembrance and Armistice Day events that pay tribute to the sacrifices of servicemen and women, we come together throughout the year in support of our armed forces community.
Last November I attended the unveiling of the region’s first HM Armed Forces Commemorative Walkway, which memorialises those who have served and lost their lives in defence of our country. It’s so important that the next generation learns about and understands the sacrifices of the brave men and women who fought for our future.
As a member of the Armed Forces Parliament Scheme, I have worked alongside the Army, and now the Royal Air Force. I have seen first-hand what life is like for our servicemen and women.
I have also met representatives of the military charity sector, including the RAF Benevolent Fund, which provide welfare support for both serving and retired armed forces personnel.
By 2028 there will be approximately 1.6 million veterans living in the UK.
They deserve lifelong support from the Government, which spans from mental and physical health to employment and education assistance.
The Royal British Legion reports that large number of veterans experience problems with self-care and have difficulty looking after themselves. Depression currently affects 480,000 members of the ex-Service community and many describe feelings of social isolation.
Across the country veterans who sacrificed everything are facing stigma.
Indeed, one in five UK employers is unlikely to consider hiring a veteran because they think they either do not have the skills or would not fit into the workplace culture.
Our veterans, their families and dependants deserve better.
In my role as the Shadow Minister for the Veterans’ Office I will continue to challenge the stigma veterans encounter, pushing for better services and resources to help them with post-service life struggles.
This Parliament I have questioned the Government on their support of our veterans. Following the announcement by veteran’s mental health charity, Combat Stress, that it was no longer able to accept new referrals due to funding cuts, I pressed the Government on its commitment to helping veterans overcome difficulties they face on return to civilian life.
I will continue to campaign both inside and outside Parliament to ensure the needs of veterans are met. Our veterans sacrificed everything for this country. Their commitment and dedication to keeping us safe should be honoured.