Why we must support Forces leavers as they return to Civvy Street
The majority of service leavers make a successful move from the Forces, but for some the return to civilian life can be overwhelming. We look at some of the challenges that our Armed Forces personnel face and how SSAFA has found a way to support those who are wounded, injured and sick.
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By Karen Oldfield, Head of Specialist Services at SSAFA
For many serving men and women, life in the military is all encompassing. It can be hard for some of us to understand how many of their life decisions are made by the military. Their jobs are set out for them along with their family life, friends and socialising. The military gives them a clear career pathway while the ranking structure provides a strong hierarchy in the workplace.
When it is time to leave the Forces, suddenly these men and women have to consider things that they haven’t needed to think about before. From small decisions like what to wear to work to big things such as where their family will live and their next career move. Whatever the circumstances of their transition, it’s likely that the service leaver will face some challenges and experience anxiety about what the future holds. As Prince Harry prepares to leave the Army, he has admitted that he expects his transition into civilian life to be challenging. For those who are leaving the Forces because they are wounded, injured or sick, these challenges are even harder to overcome.
The challenges of medical discharge
Medical discharge from the Armed Forces, which is how many wounded, injured and sick personnel leave, can happen in a number of ways that all have their complications. Those who are seriously injured on operations often receive compensation when they are discharged to support them in their life outside the military. However it can take some skill to manage the money to ensure that it lasts for the rest of their lives – and there is often pressure from family or friends over finances too.
Others are discharged because of illness that prevents them from continuing a career in the Forces. They might need to find new employment or if their illness prevents them from working - and they have no compensation payment - there may be a struggle to access benefits and other financial support. Alongside this, they must deal with their injury or illness.
How can mentoring help?
SSAFA’s mentoring service for wounded, injured and sick service leavers was set up to help with these difficult transitions. As we developed our bespoke service, we had support from the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry which is committed to helping those who serve in the Armed Forces and their families through the challenges of returning to civilian life. Our volunteer mentors are on hand to help service leavers navigate through their transition and prevent them from feeling isolated. Mentors are trained to give one-to-one, face-to-face guidance to service leavers from finding out what organisations can offer the most beneficial support to identifying skills from the military that will help them in a civilian context. Some of our mentors have made their own transition from the Forces; or they may draw on their experiences from Civvy Street to help their mentee adjust to their new life.
Unique support from SSAFA
We are the only provider of this kind of mentoring support for serving Army and RAF personnel and we are proud that our service has received national accreditation from the Mentoring and Befriending Association. Our mentoring service works because it puts building blocks in place for service leavers to achieve their goals for life outside the military, including employment, education and voluntary work. It also gives them increased confidence to do this.
Of course the process of transition is only part of the challenge that these men and women face. That’s why our mentors work together with their mentees to build strategies to cope with whatever comes next for them.