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Mapping the needs of veterans across the UK

High profile events such as the Invictus Games, together with campaigning by Prince Harry, highlight the needs of military veterans on an international and national scale. Indeed, the wellbeing of ex-servicemen and women in the UK has become a national focus in recent years, and the Armed Forces, NHS and charities are working hard to offer support to those who might benefit from it. But understanding where that support is needed at the regional level, and what services are available, has been a challenge – until now. A new Service Directory App is putting veteran’s health and social care needs on a map.

Dr Matthew Kiernan is an Associate Professor in Mental Health and Veteran Studies in the Department of Nursing, Midwifery and Health. A former Lieutenant Commander in the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service, he has a thorough understanding of the challenges experienced by Armed Forces personnel, their families, and the health and social care professionals offering them support.

There are currently thought to be 2.75 million veterans living in the UK, and many – including their families – require support from a range of different services. To date, there has been little understanding of veterans’ specific regional needs, the social and health services available in those regions, and the numbers of ex-servicemen and women and family members who need access to those services.

To address this gap, in March 2017, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) Covenant Grants Team commissioned Dr Kiernan and his team within The Northern Hub for Military Veterans and Families Research to produce a map of veterans’ and their families’ welfare needs across the whole of the UK. The research project, known as Map of Need, provides an important Public Health Observatory function, in that the MoD will be able to make informed funding decisions based on evidence and data.

As part of the project, the research team, together with Northumbria University Newcastle and US partners Ripplenami Inc. have developed an app called the Veterans’ Service Directory, that will enable health and social care professionals, as well as those working in military charities, to access a directory of all quality assured services available to veterans across the UK. It is incredibly easy to use, and can be downloaded to smart phones, tablets and computers.

From a research perspective, the Veterans’ Service Directory provides a vital information-gathering function. Frontline health and social care staff using the app complete a simple registration process, which involves drop down menus and takes less than a minute to complete. The registration process asks for details such as the age of the client or patient, the first part of their postcode (e.g. SW1, NE7, L22), and the branch of service they are accessing, but does not ask for any information that could disclose the identity of each client or patient.

By analysing this data, the research team will have a comprehensive view of ex-service personnel needs. They will gain a better understanding of where in the UK there is most need, and over time, whether veterans’ needs are increasing or decreasing.

The implications of the Map of Need are vast: at the regional level, specific resources and funding can be targeted to areas in most need; at the national level, 2.75 million veterans and their families will have an increased awareness of the available support services in their local area; and at the global level, the Veterans’ Service Directory App is a completely new concept, paving the way for mapping public health needs and services worldwide.

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