Concerns raised over surge in suicides of Afghanistan war veterans

2 March 2020, 07:33

Operation Herrick is the codename under which all British operations in the War in Afghanistan were conducted from 2002
Operation Herrick is the codename under which all British operations in the War in Afghanistan were conducted from 2002. Picture: PA

Concerns have been raised over an increase in suicides among military personnel who served in Afghanistan, with a minister pledging to speed up mental health support for former troops.

Johnny Mercer, the Minister for Veterans, vowed to speed up Government plans for a new mental health service for veterans as he rained the alarm over the increase in deaths.

Fourteen former and serving military personnel are thought to have killed themselves in the past two months, the Times reported, although some inquests are yet to take place.

The newspaper reported, "a high proportion are veterans of a particular grouping involved in Operation Herrick, Britain's combat mission in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2014".

More than 70 former and serving personnel took their lives in 2018 and at least 50 suicides occurred last year, according to reports.

Mr Mercer told the paper he was particularly concerned about recent deaths involving "a specific unit that served at a specific time in Afghanistan... the bloodiest time".

The former army officer turned MP said the increase in suicides would bring forward Government plans for new mental health treatments for veterans, which are due to begin next month and complement NHS programmes on issues like PTSD, addiction, and debt, the paper said.

Last year, the Government said it would give funding to a study examining risk factors in the year leading up to veterans' suicides.

It also said the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) veterans study would be extended to include recent service leavers and would be "updated on an ongoing basis to provide real-time monitoring of suicides".

"Combined, these studies will provide increasingly robust data in order to understand whether suicide in the ex-forces community is disproportionate compared to the rest of the UK general population and will identify potential interventions in order to prevent suicide", the Government has said.

"I want to understand at exactly what stage we could or should have intervened in that process," Mr Mercer told the Times.

The MoD said Mr Mercer had given the interview in a private capacity.