behaviour , and employment / financial difficulties , add further complexity . These problems – and their cumulative and longstanding nature – can also have a significant and sustained impact on veterans ’ families .
Over the past year we ’ ve been speaking with families of veterans with substance use problems ( FVSUs ) across the country , and through their testimonies have learnt how they can be profoundly affected by their loved ones ’ drinking and drug problems , experiencing high levels of isolation and loneliness , yet rarely appearing to access support for themselves .
‘ I became anxious and lost a lot of weight as I was stressed and worried . I was tearful and frustrated all of the time and worried what would happen to me and my children ’ ( FVSU research participant ).
Through our work at Adfam we know all about the challenges families affected by substance use face day-to-day – fear , abuse , stigma and mental health problems to name but a few .
‘ There was just nobody I could go to ; I just had to kind of live that life ... I couldn ’ t tell people that was the life I was living .’
However , we now know there are a number of ways that the experiences of veterans ’ families differ to those of civilian families , and certain characteristics of military culture play a particularly influential role in how this specific group of families are affected . In addition to heavy and frequent use of alcohol , there is also the ‘ fighting mentality ’ instilled into serving personnel from the start of their training . It was felt that not enough is done to address this mentality when
individuals leave the armed forces and that this can cause problems for veterans and , therefore , their families . Furthermore , we were told about stoicism amongst military personnel and how they are expected to be strong and infallible , and should not expose , or ask for help with , vulnerabilities and problems . This mindset of not being open about problems , and hence being unwilling to come forward for help , extends to the families too .
‘ There was just nobody I could go to ; I just had to kind of live that life ... I couldn ’ t tell people that that was the life I was living ’ ( FVSU research participant ).
Specific support for FVSUs is sparse , and of the support that is available , many aren ’ t aware of how or where they can access it . Opportunities to engage FVSUs when serving personnel and veterans access help are also often missed . Based on the findings from this research , we have developed a holistic , multi-component support model to address this and would encourage all support organisations
to examine how it could fit within their work , to provide evidencebased targeted support to this important group of families .
This article is based on Fighting their own battle , a new research report outlining the experiences of families of veterans with substance use problems ( FVSUs ), along with a support model designed specifically for FVSUs . This work was funded by the Forces in Mind Trust and delivered by Adfam and the University of York .
Thank you to the many FVSUs across the country who took the time to share their experiences so openly and honestly , particularly those on our project advisory group , and also to the Forces in Mind Trust for their vital support in helping us deliver this work and our project partners Bristol Drugs Project , HMP Parc , SSAFA and Tom Harrison House .
You can find out more about this research and download the research report in full along with the support model on Adfam ’ s website .
Robert Stebbings is policy and communications lead at Adfam
beer at half the commercial price – hardly what the commission wants .
So the relationship members of the armed forces have with alcohol remains problematical , which is why we at Forces in Mind Trust funded Fighting their own battle , the University of York ’ s study , with Adfam , into the support needed by families of exservice personnel with substance misuse . It ’ s useful to recognize that the armed forces aren ’ t anywhere near as homogenous as an observer might think . From day one , alcohol is used to overcome social inhibitions , provide an acceptable environment in which to let off steam , and to bond . Our research consistently shows that when it ’ s time to leave , most serving people successfully make the transition into civilian life . For some though , the absence of shared values , recognizable structure and comradeship , together with a less-rewarding professional life and diminished personal pride , can build a barrier to that successful transition .
Those dangerous habits of alcohol misuse , developed during service and masked to an extent by institutional encouragement and a generally fit population , are not shed with the uniform . We know , again from the evidence , that the proportion of serving personnel with damaging levels of alcohol consumption is significantly greater than the civilian equivalent , and the same holds true for the veterans population .
This mixture of ingrained habits , an avoidance of help seeking and an easy retreat ( at least whilst under the influence ) from daily reality , provides a fertile ground for a downward spiral . Families are likewise affected , where the barrier between relatives and the veteran built during service as a means of protection can remain in place during tough times . Where the veteran has comorbid conditions , for example mental ill health , or there are other issues such as domestic violence , then the barriers are higher , the stigma
‘ Those dangerous habits of alcohol misuse , developed during service and masked to an extent by institutional encouragement and a generally fit population , are not shed with the uniform .’
greater , the alcohol misuse more severe and the chances of successful transition reduced .
A word on drugs . The armed forces operate what amounts to a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drug use , and habits or addictions
are unlikely to form during service . A single transgression will almost always result in discharge , as between 600 and 770 serving personnel find out each year , but their treatment requires improvement . Our research project Fall out – the impact of a compulsory drugs discharge with Galahad SMS Ltd will report shortly .
Evidence is clear that the successful transition of a veteran is a successful transition for their family too . We speak about ‘ holistic ’ transition a lot , and we apply the same to any support that ’ s offered – which is why the joined up and wraparound family force support model is so exciting . It needs modest additional resource , but much greater connectivity , such as between local services and the ‘ veterans gateway ’.
Becoming veteran aware would be a great first step forward towards helping those who have served their country , and those they love .
Ray Lock CBE has been chief executive of Forces in Mind Trust since 2012