Could COVID-19’s impact be worse for our female veterans?

COVID-19 has impacted us all in some way – but some groups are paying a higher price. Find out why the pandemic’s impact could be worse for our female veterans.

When you make the decision to serve in the Armed Forces, you’ll likely be aware of its legacy. But, while serving in the military is seen by many to be a noble pursuit, there is a negative aspect to it – and it affects servicewomen far more than servicemen.

Servicewomen aged 20-44 are the most likely to have a mental health diagnosis, making it all the more important that there are support systems in place to help.

A recent study into the military charity sector has shined a light on the strength of support available to military personnel. Specialist lawyers Bolt Burdon Kemp, alongside military charity Veteran’s Lifeline carried out an open survey directed at military charities, titled the Military Charity Barometer.

The research sought to get a consensus viewpoint from the charities as to how much support is available for military personnel – and particularly those who are no longer serving. 

The government isn’t doing enough for veterans’ mental health

Unfortunately, the consensus among military charities is that more needs to be done to provide adequate levels of support. Over two thirds of military charities think neither the government nor the Armed Forces are doing enough to support veterans’ mental health. Veteran mental health services are then left to provide vital support where the government is not doing so, providing a lifeline to those who need it.

To make matters worse, 10% and 5% of charities respectively say the Armed Forces and the government aren’t doing anything to help veterans when it comes to their mental wellbeing. 

This is particularly concerning for servicewomen as they are more likely than servicemen to experience behaviours from their peers that may be distressing to them. For example, as our previous story on the military demonstrated, servicewomen are more likely to experience sexual harassment than servicemen.

What’s more, despite only making up 10% of the overall personnel, they are forced to make 20% of complaints to the military complaints system. In 2017, out of 126 victims of sexual harassment in the military, a staggering 100 were women. 

Military charities aren’t equipped to deal with mental health trauma

Facing harassment and discrimination takes a significant toll on your mental health. Military charities serve as a source of support for veterans and service personnel for any issues they might be facing. 

Unfortunately, many military charities noted that they don’t believe their sector is adequately equipped to deal with veteran mental health issues. The survey found that 2 in 5 employees at military charities receive no formal training in how to spot or treat mental disorders.

Only 3 in 5 military charities reported being able to provide formal mental health support or trainingto staff that deal with traumatic cases.

Military charities don’t feel they can provide overall support, either

The survey also saw 44% of military charities reporting that they receive cases they aren’t equipped to handle at least once a year, while for 1 in 4 this happens at least once a month. 

This is despite efforts from the government to enhance support for veterans. In 2019, the Prime Minister created the Office for Veterans Affairs and the first ever UK-wide “Strategy for our Veterans” was released in 2018. Introduced in 2000, the Armed Forces Covenant (AFC) was also a way for the government to solidify their commitment to supporting service leavers.

Twenty years on, with military charities reporting that they don’t feel properly supported by the government, it’s clear the AFC pledge itself hasn’t been enough to make a real difference.

Veterans during COVID-19

Add to all this, the impact that the pandemic is having on military veterans. While service personnel have been actively involved in providing coronavirus-related aid, new studies are revealing that veterans aren’t being properly supported.

One study found a 50% increase in veterans saying they’re struggling with mental health issues during the pandemic, while another has been launched to explore the wider impact of COVID-19 on the Armed Forces.

IS COVID-19 The perfect storm?

When Labour’s Shadow Armed Forces Minister Stephen Morgan was made aware of the findings from the Military Charity Barometer, he commented that they “didn’t come as a surprise” and that “social isolation, financial turmoil and pressure on mental health resulting from this pandemic means that support for our veterans community is needed now more than ever.” 

There’s a real chance that systemic discrimination, sexual harassment and lack of a place to turn for support are all culminating in the perfect storm for female personnel – leading to a mental health crisis that could be impossible to recover from.

If we are to come out of this pandemic stronger, it’s imperative that the unique experience – and issues – faced by female servicewomen and veterans are taken seriously.

As they strive to give us their best for our country, our service personnel need their country to give them the best care and support we can possibly provide.

Photo by Liz Sanchez-Vegas