MILITARY veterans should be guaranteed “special provision” in the NHS, Opposition leader Ed Miliband has said.
A Labour UK government would amend the health service constitution to give specific protection to those who fought for their country, he announced.
It is hoped that enshrining the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant within it would raise awareness of the particular challenges facing veterans – including reservists – especially mental health issues.
The move would not apply in Scotland, where health is devolved, but campaigners hope the Scottish Government would follow suit.
As many as one in four suffer psychological problems on leaving the forces, with research suggesting more than 7,500 of those who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq could suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.
But charities say many go years without getting appropriate help.
Mr Miliband set out the proposal to an audience of veterans in Gloucester ahead of Armed Forces Day, which is marked across the UK today.
“The armed forces’ immeasurable courage keeps our nation safe,” he said.
“It is right we protect them just as they protect us. We must give all those who have served rights in the NHS constitution so they have access to the special healthcare they need and deserve.
“There is a significant minority who suffer from mental health problems on leaving the forces. Given the sacrifices they make in our name, it is essential we give a guarantee that their health will be protected.
“Enshrining the principles of the military covenant in the NHS constitution would send a signal about the duty of care we owe to our veterans, and help to raise awareness of their specific needs, which is why it is an important change we pledge to make.”
Labour said that there was at present no reference to members of the armed forces or veterans in the health service constitution. It wants it to explicitly include the covenant principles that no one should be disadvantaged as a result of military service and that “special provision for service people may be justified” because of it.