LONDON, September 28, 2012 /PRNewswire/ --
The Military Covenant is an agreement under which the state pledges a duty of care toward all military personnel. The Ministry of Defence states that 'it exists to redress the disadvantages that the Armed Forces community faces in comparison to other citizens, and to recognise sacrifices made.'
But Mark McGhee, a leading expert in military claims and a partner with Fentons Solicitors LLP, said that whilst the Covenant offers welcome guarantees to service personnel, it is important that individuals understand the rights afforded them and ensure that they are treated according to the letter of the law.
"The Military Covenant involves an obligation for life, and establishes how the Armed Forces community should expect to be treated in return for serving their country," said Mark. "It is essentially the nation's promise that former and serving, regular and reservist personnel - as well as their families - will be cared for in return for their service.
"Britain has a moral obligation to recognise the extraordinary commitment and sacrifices members of the Armed Forces make for their country. As hundreds of servicemen and women continue to leave the Armed Forces, either voluntarily or due to compulsory redundancies, it is absolutely right that they are cared for in accordance with the principles of the Military Covenant."
Origins, obligations and concerns
The origins of the Covenant lie in the Ministry of Defence's publication of the booklet 'Soldiering - The Military Covenant' in April 2000, which finally put into writing what are termed 'the mutual obligations between the nation and its Armed Forces'.
Mark McGhee, who has acted on behalf of veterans and serving personnel for many years, said although the Military Covenant became law in 2011, there is still a misunderstanding of the protections it offers and how its guarantees should be applied.
"Before it was enshrined in law in November last year, there was increasing concern that Britain's soldiers, sailors and airmen were not getting the healthcare, housing or pay that they deserved," said Mark.
"Certain aspects of the covenant have faced repeated criticism in the media and amongst campaigners, with a number of key failings receiving particular attention," he added. "These included the provision of healthcare for injured personnel and veterans, rates of pay, the availability and quality of equipment, standards of Service accommodation and the allowances, compensation and welfare support provided to veterans and their families.
"The transition from Service to civilian life is never straightforward, particularly when there are injuries or mental health issues involved," said Mark. "The services and support available to both former and serving members and their families from the Ministry of Defence as well as other government departments and the charitable sector should include everything from compensation and ongoing healthcare, to guidance on housing, education, employment, finances and family life."
As a result of continued pressure about failure to adhere to the Covenant, last November's Armed Forces Act 2011 formalised the principles of the Military Covenant for the first time and created the requirement for an annual Military Covenant report to be presented to Parliament each year.
Armed Forces Act 2011
"The Armed Forces Act 2011 was a long anticipated and highly significant milestone in the history of the Armed Forces as for the first time it made the government's duty of care towards service personnel and their families legally binding," said Mark. "In addition, it allowed Parliament to scrutinise how the Armed Forces were treated and formally announce a raft of critical measures such as priority NHS treatment for personnel and their families, council tax rebates for all personnel serving abroad, priority allocation of council housing and guaranteed school places for Forces children as well as a pledge to pay Forces' widows a pension for life.
"In regard to the inquest process for bereaved families, it is absolutely paramount that grieving families receive the help and support they deserve when the deaths of their loved ones are investigated," added Mark. "The inquest process, which is a key component of the Military Covenant, has been heavily criticised in recent years by families for compounding their grief, especially in regard to long waiting times and it is high time it is reformed.
Health and healthcare provision
"In regard to healthcare, the Armed Forces community should enjoy at the very least the same standards and access to healthcare as any other UK citizen," said Mark. "Indeed in my view because of their service there should be a priority commitment to provide treatment. Forces families should retain their positions on NHS waiting lists in the event that they have to move around the country due to postings. Those wounded in combat should be entitled to priority access to healthcare and NHS support, including quality prosthetics for amputees and IVF treatment, either privately or through the NHS, for those unable to have children as a result of their injuries. In addition, veterans should receive priority treatment within the NHS where their injuries or conditions are a result of their service."
Due to the UK's large-scale involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of gravely injured personnel will need specialist healthcare for the rest of their lives. In addition to the steady influx of combat amputees with complex needs leaving the army over the next 10 years, it is widely expected that many more will require specialist mental healthcare for serious psychological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder as a direct result of their experiences in combat.
"Mental healthcare is a huge issue and those suffering with PTSD and/or associated depression and anxiety orders need to be aware that their condition is normal," said Mark. "Their needs are a priority and they should be aware that there are services specifically available to them."