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Veteran 'evaluation projects' gain momentum at Wrexham Glyndwr University

By Rachel Wheatley

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A number of ‘evaluation projects’ are underway at Wrexham Glyndŵr University, to assess the impact of the veteran agenda within the community and how the long-term mental health and well-being of veterans is improving through the development of sustainable, accessible and effective public services.

The first project is four months into an innovative, one year study funded by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, focusing on a third sector service working with the NHS as a statutory body.

CAIS Change Step and Veterans NHS Wales, led by Director and Consultant Clinical Lead Dr Neil J. Kitchiner, have collaborated to appoint two new veteran peer mentors to work alongside existing Veterans' Therapists Karen Hawkings and Mark Birkhill.

The funding from BCUHB has enabled Change Step to support former forces personnel who need treatment related to experiences during their time in service, or in adjusting to civilian life.

Karen and Mark offer peer mentoring and advice based out of Wrexham Maelor hospital. Their work engages them with veterans who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), outside of clinical treatment.

Leading veteran research at Glyndŵr university is Dr Nikki Lloyd-Jones, Senior Lecturer in the School of Social and Life Sciences: “Using research based insight developed from this study, the university will be underpinning the curriculum for public-sector workers about the transition challenges veterans face after leaving the military.

"In November 2015, we were awarded a grant of £210,859 from the lottery funded charity ‘Forces in Mind Trust’ (FiMT), to explore the everyday decision making of veterans in transition. The two-year project, ‘Exploration of Transition’, developed our profile of interest in veteran research and because of our existing partnership with members of the North Wales Armed Forces Forum, Betsi Cadwaldr University Health Board and local authorities in the region, CAIS approached us about an evaluation project”.

The second of the university’s evaluation projects, is a ‘covenant’ funded two-year study which will focus on the collaboration between Wrexham County Borough Council and the six North Wales local authorities who have appointed two liaison officers to work across all six authorities.

Their roles will begin next month, with the aim to improve the infrastructure of delivering the covenant obligations and responsibilities within North Wales.

The key principles of the Armed Forces Covenant have been enshrined in law in the Armed Forces Act 2011, and recognises the moral obligation the government and the nation have towards members of the armed forces, veterans and their families. It ensures they are treated fairly by giving them equal access to commercial services and products like any other citizen.

Glyndŵr university signed the ‘community covenant’ on the 5th April 2013, along with 21 other partners across Wrexham to show its support and to promote public understanding and awareness.

Dr Lloyd-Jones said: “Very often, veterans are at a disadvantage because they’re not aware of where to go or how to access a number of public services after leaving the military. It’s not that the services aren’t there; it’s more about signposting, navigating and helping them understand how to access them”.

Helen Odunaiya, the Partnerships and Equalities Lead of Wrexham County Borough Council, added: "We are delighted to have been successful with our bid to the MOD covenant fund, and the grant will mean that for the next two years we will have two Armed Forces Liaison Officers (AFLO) working across North Wales. Linzi Jones and Stephen Townley will be working with the six North Wales Local Authorities to embed the covenants, develop good practice and consistency across the region, and ensure local authorities understand their commitments to the armed forces covenants and that local veterans and their families understand what support they can receive and how best to access it".

Speaking about the university’s commitment to improve communications between the ex-military service and the civilian population, Dr Lloyd-Jones said: “There are underlying themes of civic engagement and improving the public-sector services approach towards this cohort of people. I’m bewildered by the responses of civilians to the veteran situation, as it’s really challenging for veterans facing transition. It’s a change of lifestyle, of context and the navigation of civilian community that can be over-whelming.

"Research is proving that there is so much on-going work in trying to improve the transition experience, from signposting to developing a single point of access to identify services, organisations and resources. It should be emphasised that many veterans make positive transitions and go on to be very successful, but our understanding is that there a number of ex-service personnel who aren’t as well prepared as they could’ve been”.

Dr Lloyd-Jones concluded: “Glyndŵr university is building a strong case portfolio in veteran research and forms part of our long-standing commitment to deliver the Armed Forces Community Covenant (AFCC). In a bid to move our veteran responsibility forwards, we’re offering advice and communication about how to access courses at the university.”

For more information, please email veterans@glyndwr.ac.uk or call 01978 293591/07540 148513

Findings from the ‘Exploration of Transition’ project are due to be published in a report in November 2017.

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