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RBL research reveals urgent support required for struggling carers in the Armed Forces Community

  • New study shows 70% of carers in the Armed Forces community say caring has negatively affected their mental health, with 50% saying it has affected their physical health
  • Carers in Armed Forces community receive half as much support as those in the wider population, with 40% getting no help at all over the last two years
  • The RBL is calling on the Government and the NHS to urgently provide more support to carers in the Armed Forces community

The Royal British Legion is today urging the Government and the NHS to improve support for carers in the Armed Forces community. It comes as new research from the RBL reveals that 70% of unpaid carers in the Armed Forces community are experiencing a negative impact on their mental health, and over 50% say their physical health is suffering due to the strain of their caring responsibilities.

For unpaid carers who have a family member currently serving in the Armed Forces, nearly 90% say their own mental health has been negatively affected. While the RBL has welfare services available to carers in the Armed Forces community, these alone are not enough.

The research identified that unpaid carers within the Armed Forces community are receiving half as much support as carers in the civilian population. Despite carers in the Armed Forces community being at high-risk of loneliness and isolation, 40% of unpaid carers admitted they had received no support at all over the last two years. Over the course of the pandemic, half of carers have seen a reduction in the availablity of support and services that they and the person they care for need.

With nearly half of respondents juggling caring responsibilities and employment, the RBL’s study found unpaid carers are facing long periods without a proper break. Taking a break is essential to stop carers becoming exhausted and run down, however fewer than 10% of respondents took a break in the last year. This was even lower among those caring for a veteran. Those who care for a veteran who has complex mental health conditions such as PTSD require specialist support to provide effective care for a loved one.

The study also found serving carers face unique issues and barriers not always recognised by the Ministry of Defence. Only 11% of carers currently enlisted in the military feel they can balance their caring responsibilities with their military careers all the time. As a result, the RBL is calling on the government to improve access to free respite care and create a specific carers policy to recognise the needs of unpaid carers in the serving military community. This would also help improve awareness of carers in the Armed Forces community amongst professionals and statutory bodies who support them during military and post-service life

For one hundred years, the charity has stood with the Armed Forces community to challenge injustices so those who have served and sacrificed on our behalf get the fair treatment and recognition they deserve and continues to do so today. The Royal British Legion’s support for carers includes a partnership with Dementia UK to provide Admiral Nurses – a specialist service helping the Armed Forces community and their families living with dementia. In addition, the RBL’s Network for Carers tackles loneliness by connecting carers in the military community, facilitating friendships, organising group activities and providing one-to-one support to those who need it.

Charles Byrne, the Royal British Legion’s Director General, says:

“The RBL’s research has revealed a troubling situation for many carers in the Armed Forces community. The strain of caring has damaged their mental and physical health and very few are able to take a break. While the RBL provides welfare services including Admiral Nurses and the new Network for Carers, the government needs to put unpaid carers in the Armed Forces community at the heart of its social care reforms to ensure our community feels supported.”

Dorothy Weir, 75, has been the full-time carer for her 76-year-old husband Angus for six years and is supported by the RBL’s Admiral Nurses service. Angus served in the Army for 10 years and now has a complex mixture of physical and mental health issues including bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s and PTSD, some of which his family believe stems from his time in service. Admiral Nurses provide support to Dorothy, giving her information about how dementia affects Angus as well as helping to keep her spirits up when she is tired or lonely.

Dorothy Weir, a service user of the RBL’s Admiral Nurses says:

“Caring for Angus impacts my life in every way. His long-term memory is brilliant – he can talk about his time in the Army until the cows come home – but he can’t tell me what happened yesterday. When you’re on your own caring for somebody like that, you become quite isolated. I’m now at a point where I dare not go out for more than an hour.  You get up in the morning and don’t know what the day is going to bring. It’s relentless. The RBL’s Admiral Nurses service has been a real support, it’s the one thing in my life which is absolutely fantastic.”

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