A call to arms is being issued to businesses throughout the Tees Valley – and the two firms behind it are hoping it will prove a real force for change within the armed forces community.
RMS operations director Nikki Butt and Genesis managing director Sara Arthur are on a mission. Their objective is to create a local support network for veterans integrating into Civvy Street and they’re asking other businesses to join up.
At its heart, the initiative hopes to bring companies of all types together to tackle the issues ex-military personnel face around mental health, employment and homelessness, which they say are becoming more and more connected in today’s society.
Figures show almost 15,000 veterans left their military careers in 2017/18 – so what happened to those veterans who fought for our country?
Since 2018, figures show there have been at least 155 suicides among the veteran and serving community that are known about, most of which are connected to one if not more of the above issues and directly related to a veteran’s military service.
Armed forces charity All Call Signs believes many more deaths go unrecorded, as they say coroners don’t have guidance on how to ask whether a suicide was somehow related to military service – so the real figures could be much higher.
The government has suicide prevention and armed forces mental health plans to help tackle the problem, but they have a ten-year window for implementation. In that time, it’s estimated more ex-military personnel will be lost to suicide than were lost in active service in both Iraq and Afghanistan. So where does this leave those who have served the country?
RMS and Genesis believe their local community can help reduce these statistics. They say research has shown that recognising the signs and offering support can be and is successful.
One major contributing factor in the successful transition to civilian life is employment. So when RMS and Genesis met at the recent Tees Businesswomen Awards – organised by Tees Business – they uncovered a shared ethos and the idea for this project was born.
Nikki says: “Our businesses are similar in that we both deal with people and their livelihoods and we both have a responsibility towards their welfare. In addition to that, we both have strong connections with the armed forces and the transition into Civvy Street, so coming together seemed a natural fit.
“We feel passionate about creating a forces-friendly community that has one objective – prevention.”
Both companies have strong business networks and links with forces charities, making them well-positioned to kickstart such a campaign and they believe support from other local businesses would give them an even firmer base from which to help combat the main issues veterans face.
That help, Nikki says, starts with raising awareness so we can offer opportunities.
Employers can invest in training courses such as Mental Health First Aid in the workplace, for example, creating an environment that recognises and supports those suffering, while providing a positive mental health culture at work.
They would then like to engage with employers who can commit to creating employment opportunities for veterans.
Sara, who won Best Newcomer at the Tees Businesswomen Awards, a category that was sponsored by RMS, adds: “We both share this passion, we both spend our working lives dealing with human beings and we both want to give back.
“We’re saying to businesses and companies, ‘Come forward, get involved, make a commitment, give us some time.’
“This is because we would like businesses to help in their working environments – simply recognising and understanding that ex-servicemen and women struggling to fit in to Civvy Street might not be as familiar with the politically correct requirements of 21st-century offices.
“We also want them to recognise just what a valuable and varied skillset veterans have to offer to businesses, with a well established work ethic.
“We are using our businesses, contacts and platform to do good and support the uphill struggle our veterans and veterans charities face every day.
“If we can use our skills and resources to place people back into work, we hope this will help alleviate some of the worries our veterans face, such as homelessness.
“It’s thought that veterans in employment suffering from mental health and PTSD respond to therapy and treatment better than those who are unemployed.”
It isn’t only employers they are looking to hear from. They would also like to engage counsellors, homelessness shelters and businesses with the ability to market the campaign and the vision to meet and make progress in the New Year.
So if you have a little time to spare and a shared ethos of working to promote better mental health and a forces-friendly spirit, they want to hear from you.
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“I’m involved with a charity called Veterans in Crisis, which is based in Sunderland,” says Sara. “Eighteen months ago it saw 189 vets, 90 per cent of whom had a mental health issue and 40 per cent suffering from PTSD.
“Out of those 189, 23 were homeless. How many people are there across the Teesside area? The facts are hard-hitting. We’re saying let’s listen, let’s not judge. And let’s see if we can really help.”
If you would like your business to take the time to understand what backgrounds former service men and women have come from, learn what coping mechanisms they have developed and discover how they can be incorporated into their future careers, Nikki and Sara would love to hear from you.
“Our worlds may seem miles apart, but they don’t need to be,” says Nikki. “We are all fighting for the same thing – let’s protect those who protect us!”
Contact Nikki on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01325 389333 or Sara on Sara@gpsinfo.org.uk on 01748 831900.