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Prof Alan Finnegan presenting

Innovative cost-effective ways to reduce depression, anxiety and alcohol misuse whilst improving wellbeing in military veterans and their families have been identified in a report by the University of Chester’s Westminster Centre for Research in Veterans.  

The findings were presented at the Centre’s Veterans and their Families Research Symposium held in Chester in October which reported on the independent evaluation of the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust’s (the Trust) Tackling Serious Stress (TSS) Programme.  

In 2018, the Trust allocated in the region of £4 million to seven projects to address the problems caused by serious stress in veterans, their carers and families. The TSS programme was designed to improve veterans, their carers’ and families’ wellbeing, whilst addressing the possible barriers to accessing health and social care. The rationale was that if veterans and their families were provided with appropriate interventions, within an environment that values leadership and tackles stigma, then stress can be effectively managed. The TSS projects started between May and October 2019 and concluded in September 2021. The Centre was selected to support the grant holders and complete an independent evaluation of the TSS projects. 

The Trust Trustees awarded grants to seven UK organisations including Walking with the Wounded, and Wigan Council in North West England. These grant holders would work with regional delivery partners and accept entry from 970 participants into the TSS programmes through multiple routes including self-referrals, statutory bodies or charities. This was a group that self-reported high levels of mental health (MH) problems including anxiety (67%) depression (67%) PTSD (62%) and physical problems with the most common being musculoskeletal / back injuries (47%).  Over 60% of participants reported having previously accessed recognised support services; specifically, their General Practitioner or other Mental Health services, but they either did not receive the provision they required or were discharged only for their problems to resurface. There were still a significant 31% of veterans who needed help who did not seek assistance. Many found it hard to look for help or were unaware of the available support. Over 40% of participants entering the programme were unemployed and living in rented accommodation; whilst 31% lived alone and 7% were homeless. Those employed were earning on average £24,000 per year.  

The TSS projects offered a mixture of different intervention options including psychotherapeutic such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, group activities, social prescribing events such as Equine Therapy, mentoring and educational courses and practical help with housing and employment. The Centre hosted Webinars that proved a novel way of connecting grant holders and sharing learning to provide real-time data to indicate what was helping beneficiaries and to identify how challenges were being addressed. From the outset, representing the participants’ voices was a key part of associate working along the customer journey, welcoming beneficiaries as equal partners. Over 95% of participants were satisfied across all the programmes and they were measured constructively at eight out of 10. The participants provided particularly gave strong feedback regarding the support they received, and the positive impact on their health, wellbeing and improved social networks.   

Large periods of this programme were completed during the considerable practical challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact cannot be over-stated, especially as many grant holders had to switch to remote working and cancel key group activities. The grant holder’s clear commitment, motivation and intelligent application of resources alongside participant engagement led to accomplishments across the UK, and the full report highlights how they circumnavigated these barriers and continued to provide veterans and their families with care and support. 

The evaluation data provides a reservoir of valuable evidence to demonstrate success and insight into projects where improvements were required and indicators of how to redress these issues. The study protocol provides a platform for building lasting collaborations and partnerships between leading authorities and organisations, governmental agencies, professional bodies, charities, businesses, and appropriate networks. Most importantly it presents those veterans and their families who need help with options to obtain the support they require. 

Professor Alan Finnegan, Director of Nursing and Military Mental Health at the University of Chester’s Westminster Centre for Research in Ageing, Mental Health and Veterans, said: “This evaluation provided a reservoir of information; the combination of all data sets provided the ACFT with a resource to demonstrate success. We are delighted to have been able to make evident via a cost benefits analysis how the projects delivered significant benefits for veterans but also provided value for money. The evaluation demonstrates that these projects had a significantly positive impact on those engaged.” 

Anna Wright, Chief Executive Officer of the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust, added: “The University of Chester’s Westminster Centre for Research in Veterans’ analysis of the projects funded by the Trust offers significant learning opportunities and points to the TSS protocol providing a platform for lasting partnerships with governmental agencies, professional bodies, charities, businesses, and appropriate networks.” 

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