Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 12th November 2014

Remembrance Day this year has of course carried a particular poignancy with it being the centenary of the start of the First World War and the millions who perished in that conflict, whatever their nationality.

Remembrance is important, not only because such a loss of life should not go unmarked but also, as is often said, because those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.

We should remember that not everyone who was affected by WWI lost their lives, many more were wounded and released bearing the injuries—not always physical—into a society ill-equipped to meet their needs.

In the years which followed the First World War unemployment became the dominant social issue and with it poverty, with soldiers returning home to a shortage of jobs and houses. Men who risked their lives for their country found a country that had abandoned them.

Today we still do far too little to help former soldiers adapt to civilian life and we should be ashamed of the results. One in ten rough sleepers in the UK is a former serviceman, far too many former soldiers end up in prison and the suicide rate amongst veterans is alarming. We are still failing the men and women who serve on our behalf.

In recent years councils have taken to signing Community Covenants with the Armed Forces to try to find new ways of helping current and former servicemen access the services and opportunities necessary to meet their needs, particularly in terms of housing and employment. One small part of this is the guaranteed interview scheme for veterans, recognising that the different career path of soldiers often means the skills they have to offer are hard to show on a CV. I would urge local employers to sign up.

Yet, ultimately to address this scandal we need action on the national level. If as much time and effort was given to planning veterans’ exit from the forces as is given to delivering the best trained soldiers in the world we could stop repeating history and genuinely welcome the troops home.

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