MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries, Finlay Carson's speech to Parliament during the debate on the Veterans and Armed Forces Community.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on such an important issue and to commend our courageous veterans.
My family does not have a long history in the armed forces, although my great-uncle served at the Somme as a blacksmith looking after the now-famous war horses.
During the summer recess, colleagues across the chamber were fortunate to spend time with the armed forces at Lossiemouth and to hear first hand about some of the issues that members of the armed forces and their partners face in living and moving around the country, sometimes with very little notice.
I think that I speak for everyone in Parliament today when I say that we are enormously grateful for their service to our country. At this time in particular, they are very much at the forefront of our thoughts.
That said, the service of those men and women to our country does not end when they finish their deployment, and neither should our support for them. After returning from combat, veterans are often left to face a harsh and unique transition back to ordinary life.
It has been found that 33 per cent of former services personnel feel isolated or lonely due to mental or physical health issues.
That is a deeply concerning statistic.
Although it may not be representative of all veterans’ experiences, it is imperative that we acknowledge and show our support for veterans as they readjust.
I am pleased that both the Scottish and UK Governments are taking action to tackle the issue.
Third sector veterans charities play a vital role in helping with the complex transition.
Last year, armed forces charities helped more than 22,000 individuals to find employment, and they helped more than 3,000 individuals to gain qualifications.
Charities also helped veterans with other less-discussed hardships of readjustment, including by providing them with advice and housing services.
I will take this moment to highlight two charities in my Galloway and West Dumfries constituency.
South West Scotland RNR provides activity holidays for injured servicemen who have returned from action, most recently from Afghanistan.
Next January will mark the charity’s ninth anniversary as a host for services personnel.
Since it opened, it has hosted more than 400 returning servicemen in a house in the coastal village of Carsethorn on the Solway Firth, in what everyone in the chamber acknowledges is Scotland’s most beautiful constituency, which will, I hope, be Scotland’s third national park.
Servicemen and bereaved families are provided with accommodation for a week-long holiday that is filled with outdoor activities and plenty of good local food.
South West Scotland RNR allows ex-servicemen to take a real break in a friendly and comfortable location away from military rules.
It provides a much-needed and deserved place of peace for our armed forces personnel, and I am incredibly grateful for the service that it provides right in the heart of my community.
Dumfries and Galloway is also home to a branch of SSAFA.
The branch exists for veterans and veterans’ families around Dumfries and Galloway and it helps them to find emotional, financial and practical support.
As part of the national SSAFA charity, the branch is committed to serving our armed forces and their families in whatever way it can, with a network of trained volunteers in the community and on military bases.
It is important to acknowledge that the readjustment period is different for each veteran and their family.
SSAFA’s wide range of services, from housing support to mental-illness counselling, allows it to help each serviceman however they need it most.
The Dumfries and Galloway branch plays a vital role for veterans in their community, and its mission will work with continued support from me and other members from across the chamber.
Veterans charities such as South West Scotland RNR and SSAFA play an invaluable role in supporting veterans and their families.
It is our role to ensure that those charities continue to grow and provide aid.
I also take this opportunity to thank Eric Fraser, who is a Royal Navy veteran of 37 years’ service.
Mr Fraser has been Scotland’s inaugural veterans commissioner since the office was created in 2014.
I commend the Scottish Government’s move to bring veterans’ needs into consideration when Government ministers are looking at new legislation.
The veterans commissioner says that Scotland’s approach is “largely encouraging but there is no room for complacency and I am convinced that more can and needs to be done...By no stretch of the imagination does the system need overhauled.”
That is reassuring, but Mr Fraser also notes that local authorities, Government agencies and housing providers that give general information about housing options in Scotland often simply fail to reach veterans and services leavers because the information is poorly presented, managed and disseminated.
The Government is making good progress in communicating with our veterans, but we should also be conscious of how we present and provide help to the community.
The Government is within reach of securing that: once again, I commend the action that has been taken so far.
Veterans can and do play an essential role in our communities, not just because of the experience that they have gained through service, but because they actively provide their communities with invaluable attributes and skills that need to be passed on to others.
Key stakeholders including the Government and charities should not treat them as helpless and lost, but as the most valuable and strong people whom we can have in our communities.
They deserve to have our support whenever they need it.