As we bid farewell to 2023, the Northern Ireland Veterans Commissioner’s Office stands proud, having navigated another bustling year dedicated to the well-being of veterans in the region. The following highlights encapsulate the strides made in communication, mental health support, celebration of veterans, remembrance, and future initiatives in 2024.
COMMS & ENGAGEMENT
The Commissioner’s commitment to connecting with the veteran community remained steadfast throughout 2023. Veteran Information Roadshows in Belfast, Carrickfergus, and Londonderry continued to out reach and engage into the very heart of the veteran community. Support to the newly elected Veterans Champions in each of the Council areas has been ongoing with a plethora of localised events of which the Northern Ireland Veterans Commissioner’s Office has been fully supportive. Creating a network of information strands is so important so that a veteran living in Northern Ireland can easily access support and advice services as and when they need them, and we will continue to communicate and outreach in every way possible. If you would like to keep up to date with what is going on within the veteran community in Northern Ireland, why not sign up to the Veterans Quarterly Newsletter here.
In a proactive approach to mental health, the office facilitated Suicide Prevention Training Sessions for key organisations across NI, reinforcing its dedication to the well-being of veterans. In addition, active participation in Mental Health training further enhanced the team’s ability to handle veteran inquiries. The importance of championing and advocating for veteran mental health in NI is ongoing as the Veterans Commissioner co-chairs the mental health committee emphasising collaborative efforts in delivering accessible mental health care.
Supporting and promoting the achievements of veterans remains a focal point. The NI Veterans Awards has received sponsorship and support from the Veterans Commissioner’s Office to help highlight the positive attributes of veterans living in Northern Ireland. Historically there has sometimes been a stigma associated with being a veteran in NI, and along with many others, the Veterans Commissioner aims to help change that narrative to highlight the achievements and contributions that veterans bring to our society. As part of this quest, a special event marked the 50th Anniversary of the Greenfinches at Royal Hillsborough Castle, to highlight how 50 years ago, brave women joined their Ulster Defence Regiment counterparts on the front line in the protection of Northern Ireland’s society, all whilst being unarmed. The service of the Greenfinches set the initial conditions for the service avenues that modern day women can engage in (service in all Arms and Regiments), as such the Serving and Ex Serving Women’s Network has been set up and continues to receive support from the Commissioner’s Office for this underrepresented corner of the veterans community.
Remembrance will always hold an important and regular part of the Commissioners work. In representing veterans across Northern Ireland, the Commissioner and his staff have ensured that representation is made at as many Remembrance events as possible, including a 70th Anniversary commemoration service for veterans who served in Korea this year in London. Closer to home the ‘We Will Remember’ Op Banner exhibition in Kilkeel garnered significant attention, hosting over 600 attendees, including 420 young people. This event served as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by veterans, and provided a platform for shared experiences.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Whether it be health, welfare, housing, employment or general engagement there is much behind the scenes activity that takes place in regards to report writing, minute taking, evidence gathering and UK engagement & collaboration across the home nations. This year the Northern Ireland Veterans Commissioner’s Office hosted the UK Veterans Commissioners’ and Veteran Health Partnership conference in Belfast and further solidified the commitment to aligning NI veteran services with those in Great Britain. The representation from the NI Veterans Commissioner ensures that voices of NI veterans are heard alongside those of Scotland, England and Wales, to help prevent disadvantage and to avail of good practice from other home nations.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
2023 saw the official launch of the Veterans Welfare Service NI, a comprehensive welfare service rebranding the former UDR and Royal IRISH (Home Service) to encompass veterans from all services, Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. This provides a central welfare service for veterans in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, the Commissioner’s advocacy and efforts in evidence gathering from the NI Veterans Health Questionnaire conducted early in 2023, have helped secure funding for a health project led by the Defence Medical Welfare Service, set to commence in 2024, designed to assist those veterans awaiting or under-going treatment for mental and physical health conditions. There is still much work to be done, in particular in regards to veterans’ housing issues to explore the potential benefits of Op Fortitude funding for homeless veterans, and lobby for ways that funding can be used in NI.
While we look forward to 2024, we also look back at how far veterans services and representation have come over the last two years. The Commissioner’s Office in the writing of this 2023 review has had the opportunity to reflect on the substantial progress made, making veterans’ services more accessible and transparent. Looking ahead to 2024, anticipation grows for further refinement and collaboration, ensuring the best possible outcomes for veterans living in Northern Ireland.