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BY MARY THOMSON, Sacro Service Manager, Glasgow and Lanarkshire

Sacro’s Veterans Mentoring Service (VMS) provides support to veterans who have become, or are at risk of becoming, involved in the criminal justice system. The service also includes those veterans about to leave the Armed Forces through dishonourable discharge or disciplinary dismissal.

The VMS mentors, all of whom have previous lived military experience, provides intensive mentoring and one-to-one peer support that is focussed on supporting veterans – the mentees – at a time of significant challenge in their lives. It assists mentees to recognise and develop their life skills including accessing education and employment training, sustaining their tenancies and accommodation and building the confidence to make critical changes in their lives.

These critical changes include addressing their offending behaviour, understanding the effects of this on their lives and the lives of their families and friends, as well as those who live in the local communities. They also assist in addressing alcohol and substance misuse, mental health problems, and social isolation.

The veterans referred to the service often need assistance to engage with health services to support their mental and physical well-being and their mentors support them to develop their self-esteem and work towards sustainable independent living.

The work that the VMS does was highlighted by Forces TV. You can click on the picture to watch the video:

Case Study

Case Study – John

John is 34 year old who served for four years in a Scottish Infantry Regiment. His time in the military was not memorable and he spent considerable time in conflict with the military authorities.

On discharge from the Army, he moved to the Scottish Borders area and became involved in crime within the local area.

He was referred to the Veterans Mentoring Service (VMS) by a mental health worker and engaged well and appeared responsive to the help and support being provided by his mentor. 

During a visit to see John, his mentor discussed the local support available to help with the issues he was experiencing. However there appeared to be little appropriate local help available.  John decided to move from the Borders to an area where he could access specialist support for his needs. With the support of his mentor he moved to Glasgow to enable him to engage with the range of suitable support agencies and in March 2020 he moved into his new accommodation.

Shortly after he moved to Glasgow the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown restrictions were imposed which had an impact on the number of available services to provide support to him.  The closure of services had a detrimental effect as he was unable to access specialist support.

John self-isolated which had a significant detrimental effect on his mental health. He struggled to sleep due to flashbacks and anxiety. He started self-medicating with non-prescription drugs to aid his sleep and this exacerbated his issues which began to cause problems within the temporary accommodation where he was living.

The problem reached crisis level and John was at risk of being evicted due to his drug use and anti- social behaviour. This would have led to him to being at risk of becoming homeless and involved in criminal activity.

Due to the level of the crisis, it was agreed that his mentor would accompany John to the accommodation review meeting to advocate on his behalf. Due to the intervention of the mentor and his assurance that he would provide continuing support, it was agreed that he would retain his tenancy, but this would be subject to weekly review.

With the continued support and encouragement of his VMS mentor, John has stopped self-medicating and is now more settled in his accommodation and his relationship with the accommodation support staff has improved.  He has been able to receive online support from an addictions worker and this is having a positive impact on his outlook on life. 

John has recently volunteered at Sacro’s Garden Project within Tollcross Park in Glasgow to engage in positive activity and says that he feels more relaxed being in the outdoors. He has a new positivity about him and has clear goals and plans for his future. He wishes to attend college to become a counsellor enabling him to work with young people within inner cities to help them avoid gang culture and a life of crime.

Margaret Smith, Policy, Planning & Development Officer for Community Justice Glasgow commented:

“Too many of our veterans find their way into our prison system.  It is widely recognised that they have a very specific and complex set of needs – often associated with PTSD and often resulting in issues around homelessness.  It is clear to me that support is what is needed to address these issues.

In response to a Parliamentary question by Keith Brown (MSP), Humza Yousaf (MSP – Cabinet Secretary for Justice) noted that as at 6th March 2019, 255 people in Scottish Prison Service care had disclosed that they were veterans.  This is likely only the tip of the iceberg, as this information is voluntary.

It is great to see services such as the Sacro Veterans Mentoring Service and the great outcomes that they are achieving in supporting veterans back into a more settled and positive life.  The approach of peer to peer support is very widely recognised across Community Justice partners as really effective, people generally trust and respect others who have similar lived experiences.”

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