‘Stop treating our former service personnel as victims’ appeal

It’s time to stop regarding former service men and women as victims unable to cope with civilian life, Scotland’s Veterans Commissioner has said.

Veterans Commissioner Charlie Wallace says most former personnel adapt well. Picture: Michael Boyd
Veterans Commissioner Charlie Wallace says most former personnel adapt well. Picture: Michael Boyd

Colonel (retired) Charlie Wallace says most of the 1,800 service personnel from Scotland leaving the forces each year had a varied skill set to bring to the jobs market and thrived in their new roles.

However Wallace, who served 35 years in the Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) now amalgamated into the Royal Regiment of Scotland, before taking up his new three-year post as commissioner last November, acknowledged some veterans suffered difficulties ranging from homelessness to mental illness.

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“The vast majority of veterans transition to civvy life extremely well but some veterans unfortunately face a tougher time either due to their time in the forces or broader challenges of life in general,’ Wallace said.

Jules McElhinney has made a successful transition to civilian life after ten years in the Army

“I have absolute empathy with that and rightly their stories should be told and the support they need should be forthcoming, without hesitancy.

“Veterans have a wealth of attributes to bring to communities and employers but the portrayal of veterans in a negative light can create unnecessary barriers.

“In addition, the labour market is missing out on a rich seam of talented and highly skilled individuals, some business sectors badly need.

“Veterans don’t want pity, they want a job and a positive destination befitting of what they have to offer.”

Wallace dismissed suggestions that employers might be reluctant to employ “troubled” veterans.

“What is more likely is that some employers may have a pretty limited understanding of the skills-set and work experience ex-service personnel typically have that can add real value to the workplace. Competency-based style interviews are not commonplace in the military.

“Employers may harbour cultural concerns, particularly where hiring for leadership roles and, wrongly, fear an authoritarian ‘sergeant-major’ approach, yet the armed forces excel in teamwork and getting the most out of people collectively and collaboratively.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We will continue to take forward the recommendations of the Veterans Commissioner. We will publish an implementation plan for the Strategy for our Veterans initiative by the end of this year.”

Case study

Jules McElhinney, 46, a former captain in the 1st Battalion Black Watch, has made a successful transition to civilian life and works as head of business development for Holt’s Military Banking, at RBS in Edinburgh.

After a decade in the Army he initially set up his own consultancy designing emergency recovery plans for businesses before joining RBS 11 years ago.

Describing the move from the services, he said: “It was a massive culture change. In the Army you know the culture, you know the aim and objectives and where you fit in. You do what you say you’re going to do and when we’re going to do it. We’re not scared to say what we think.

“There is a great deal of camaraderie,” said McElhinney who completed tours in the Balkans, Iraq and Northern Ireland.

“Civilians don’t have that common bond and in a way speak a different language.

“You can’t swear as much and there is not such a black sense of humour.

“I think veterans can be seen as an unknown entity, even a threat.”

However, McElhinney, who is a lieutenant-colonel in the Army Reservists, said veterans could be an attribute to employers and fellow employees alike.

“You’re taught to have a very good sense of humour.

“We will have dealt with some terrible situations and have learned to cope by making light of it.

“In Civilian Street nothing has equalled what I saw when I was involved in conflicts.”