The Guardian has run a story today which is entirely due to the efforts of a Mid Beds constituent, Colour Sergeant Nick Cowan.
Every Wednesday morning when we sit in the chamber for Prime Ministers questions the PM begins by sending his commiserations to the families of the servicemen and women who have lost their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan. It happens every week without fail.
I wonder why our service personnel serve us so loyally? Insurance companies won’t insure them now, they are deemed as being too risky, so they can’t get a mortgage.
The married accommodation they live in on bases across the country is in poor condition. They cannot be housed when they leave service in the area they have been based without first becoming homeless, even if they have children in school. In fact, when applying for local housing they are treated with the utmost indignity.
Nick, a Colour Sergeant at Chicksands who has given 22 years service is facing medical discharge in March. He cannot be re housed; the Housing Associations will not consider his application until two weeks before discharge, which is obviously far too late, the Housing Associations have long waiting lists.
He cannot apply for a mortgage as he is now effectively disabled.
His children are at local schools and settled, and yet the future is looking very bleak for Nick and his family who still do not know where they will be living in March.
Another serving officer has recently been transferred to Henlow Air Base. His wife had been on a hospital waiting list for nine months – just as she received her appointment for her operation, they were transferred. She has now gone onto the Bedfordshire waiting list and will wait for another nine months.
Recently, in Parliament, I laid down an early day motion to highlight the plight faced by many serving and former members of the armed forces. It calls for greater action to support their housing needs, once they have returned to civilian life. So far 72 cross-party MPs have supported the motion.
The government has to review the current system for allocating housing for serving veterans. It has to review how veterans are provided with NHS medical care following discharge. Should someone injured in the line of duty, prevented from working or in pain because they served their country have to go to the back of the queue? At a time of high activity, It has to review the impact transferring personnel across the UK has on families. It has to review the decision to provide dental and health care on base to personnel, but not their families - many of whom cannot find a local dentist due to the UK shortage.
The governments failure to reciprocate the bravery and commitment of our armed forces personnel – both during and after they have served – is a sign of shameful neglect.
One of the measures of a decent society should be how we treat our veterans. If we are to hold our heads up high then we need to raise our game - as soon as possible, so that men like Nick, and the other 450 families in the UK in exactly the same housing position can stop worrying about what is going to happen to their families after they have given so much, so willingly.