Don’t allow thousands of veterans to suffer in silence, doctors urged
DOCTORS have been urged to improve the support they give to Scotland’s 400,000 veterans to safeguard their physical and mental health.
New guidelines have been produced to provide GPs with advice on the best ways to treat patients who have served in the armed forces who may suffer a range of health issues in silence.
Figures show one in 20 of them will have been discharged from the force on medical grounds and that three-quarters will suffer a substantial injury to their joints, back or bones as a result of being in active combat.
Veteran groups say many former servicemen and women find it hard to talk about health issues and often refuse to get any help.
The new guidelines, to be sent to all surgeries in Scotland, urge GPs to ask veterans specific questions about their life in the forces and help them seek specialist support services. They also tell how veterans are entitled to priority NHS care for service-related injuries.
New leaflets advising veterans on the health services, many of them specifically designed for them, and what benefits they are entitled to, have also been produced by the Scottish Government.
Martin Gibson, chair of Veterans Scotland, said: “These men and women will have served in many posts in many countries all over the world. In it is inevitable some will suffer health issues, some of these very serious.
“These are people who have come from jobs where they have been told what to do and how to act. They have served their country with pride. For many, seeking help for health issues, be they mental or physical, will be very difficult. It is just not something they find easy to do.
“GPs are the first port of call for people and the more they can do to help and encourage veterans, to listen to them and understand them, the more this will help veterans open up about their problems.”
Colonel Gibson, who served with the Royal Scots for 30 years in a range of countries including Northern Ireland and the Falklands, said GPs had to understand a “veteran’s psyche” to be able to effectively treat them.
He said: “Many will not be very good at admitting they have a problem, they may not be good at showing emotion and feel they are a failure if they get ill. Breaking through these barriers can be hard and we hope these new guidelines will give GPs the skills and confidence to communicate effectively with veterans.”
One in every 100 veterans suffers from a serious mental health problem and the same number will have been discharged from service with a serious operation injury, such as the loss of a limb.
The new leaflet advises doctors to be aware leaving the services is “a major life event” and reminds them veterans are highly skilled professionals who would not appreciate a “paternalistic” approach. It advises: “Show understanding and compassion and it may reveal a history of hazard exposure or foreign travel which will assist in diagnosis”.
Veterans minister Keith Brown, who launched the two new guides yesterday, said: “I hope these will be invaluable to our former service personnel in helping them to identify new sources of support and advice on health issues.”
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