Opinion

Our proud history of providing care to war veterans

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There’s no denying remembrance was a 'hot' topic during 2014, the first year of the first world war centenary commemorations. Organisations and individuals across the world marked the event in a variety of ways.

Remembrance Sunday certainly concentrates minds – in 2014 perhaps even more than in the recent past. In the centenary year the British public could scarcely fail to be aware of the sacrifice of those who gave up their lives all those years ago.

But remembrance is not just about those men and women who were lost in world war one. It’s about men and women who serve today and understanding how we can learn from the past and do a better job of helping our veterans now.

Royal British Legion Industries (RBLI) was founded in 1919 to provide care to first world war veterans with tuberculosis. But today we not only provide nursing care to veterans and their dependants, but we also own a variety of housing schemes, run a manufacturing social enterprise that employs ex-service personnel, and deliver courses to help ex-service personnel for whom the transition to civilian life has not been easy.

While the majority of our forces adapt to civilian live well after leaving the services, there are some for whom the journey is more difficult. Our Lifeworks courses focus on this group, and over 80% of the men and women who take part in our courses have problems with their mental or physical health.

What we do is help them regain their confidence and encourage them to be comfortable with the change, before supporting them on the path to sustainable employment in ‘civvy street’. And, it works! Over 84% of those that come on the course are in work or training after one year, and we’re working every day to improve this.

We also realise it’s important to maintain mental wellbeing throughout the whole of veterans’ lives, and our care centres and supported housing schemes help veterans who need nursing care and support to live as independently as possible. We even have a health and wellbeing officer who works with resident veterans to ensure they integrate with the wider community.

Of course the 100 nurses and carers we employ also do a great job of helping our veterans. At Gavin Astor House, our care centre, it’s not just about providing nursing care - our nurses have great relationships with all the residents and get involved in many of their social activities. We think it’s really important to have good relationships with our residents’ families, and events which include residents, their families and staff really help maintain good mental wellbeing.

One resident told the staff she loves Gavin Astor House as there’s always plenty of activities but people are also free to do their own thing, and I think this is really key to keeping all our veterans and residents active and healthy.

For us, Remembrance Day is about highlighting all this work. It reminds us of our heritage and why our organisation was set up. But it also makes us think of the sacrifices of service personnel today, and why the work we do here at RBLI is so important.

We hope the public look at it the same way, and over the next few years, with so many first world war centenary commemorations across the country, it would be great to see more people getting involved with organisations and charities like us, whether that’s through a professional role like nursing, or as a volunteer.

When you’re working in an environment with the armed forces community, supporting and caring for those who need it – when you really are improving lives every day – that’s when the concept of remembrance really resonates.

For more information watch the RBLI’s video

About the author

Steve Sherry is chief executive of Royal British Legion Industries