Veterans’ Needs - By Major General David Shaw CBE
Over a month ago
Think for a moment. What would you do if you had no job, no money, your family had split up and you had no home of your own? Many of us would turn to friends and relatives for help, and try hard to get a job and a home. But what if there wasn’t anyone you could turn to for help and you had other complications such as poor health or no qualifications? You might start looking for support in hostels and charities. You might even end up living rough or in prison. It gets harder and harder to find a way back, but it is possible.
Most veterans of the UK’s armed forces make the transition from service life to civilian life with relative ease. This is partly because resettlement or transition training is better and more inclusive now than it has been for decades. But there are still many veterans who are living rough and they need help to get back to their own independent and satisfying lives.
A handful of us started a veterans’ charity called ‘Launchpad’ in August 2013 by opening a house in Newcastle and then another in 2015, in Liverpool. It was the coincidence of opportunity and our recognition of the veterans’ needs that prompted us to set the charity up. Launchpad can help just over 80 veterans at any one time (and partners if they have one) and places in Launchpad’s houses are available to any service person who the charity considers is going to be able to return to employment within 2 years and who does not need 24-hour specialist help.
Launchpad’s staff and minibuses.
When we set the charity up, we thought that the majority of people seeking our support would be recent service leavers who had left their resettlement plans a bit late. It turns out that many of our residents have been out of the services for years, even decades. The fact that Launchpad is consistently more than 90% full and that 95% of those veterans come from homelessness is extraordinary. Clearly they need this support.
Launchpad’s staff conducting a process improvement study.
Veterans who were homeless before coming to Launchpad have had to deal with complex issues, including poverty, unemployment, welfare and medical issues, addiction and imprisonment. It takes time and effort to unravel these issues and to stabilise people’s lives to the point where they can and want to start retraining and then go to look for and get a job.
Frequently it has occurred to me that anyone can end up needing the type of support we offer at Launchpad. It just takes one trigger such as unemployment, illness or the break-down of a marriage to unwind and destroy otherwise stable lives. Some of our residents have had senior and successful military careers; we have people who have run their own businesses, worked in the public and private sector and one of our residents was a lawyer. In contrast, many of the residents have had little or no luck in getting jobs or holding them down for several years after leaving the military.
Every resident has trodden a unique path to Launchpad. Some have lived in trenches or pigeon-lofts, sofa-surfed or survived on the streets but every life story convinces me that we should be offering help to these people. After all, most of them have served their country loyally and many have been on life-threatening operations.
Launchpad’s Avondale House, Newcastle, in 2016.
All the residents of Launchpad’s houses get a flat of their own, including bathroom and kitchen.
Of course, some veterans’ troubled circumstances might have been avoided with better judgement, but youth, anger, ill health and poverty tend to damage good judgement. Not all of us lead perfect lives. Launchpad offers veterans the chance to have another go at making transition work. The charity provides a roof over their heads and ensures that their finances and benefits are in order too. Over time the veterans are put in touch with experts who can help them stabilise their lives and ultimately make a successful transition. About 40% return to employment, another 40% or so stabilise and then they too live independently. Most of the remainder who pass through Launchpad gain temporary benefit but some do fail to help themselves. Considering that 95% of these veterans come from homeless backgrounds, these statistics show that Launchpad and our partner organisations are providing a vital service.
In another article I will explain in greater detail what help is available to veterans and explain the Launchpad link to the film I, Daniel Blake.
If you would like to learn more about Launchpad, or to help the charity, please visit www.veteranslaunchpad.org.uk .
Launchpad is a veterans' charity registered with the Charity Commission (AF&V Launchpad Limited No. 1153185)