Supporting Veterans this Armed Forces Day

Lee Buss-Blair headshotI’m proud to work for Riverside for many reasons, but included in these is our commitment to the Armed Forces Community, something that really fits with my own values and beliefs.

Not just as a veteran, but as the child and sibling of veterans as well. The Armed Forces Community is wider than those who do or have served and includes the partners and children of those who are serving or have served, in recognition of the impact on the widder family. I know my own parents were affected when I volunteered to go fight in the First Gulf War.

When Riverside were approached and asked to sign the Armed Forces Covenant, we didn’t hesitate, and we were the first Housing Association to sign up.

Since then, we have gone on to achieve the Gold Award of the Armed Forces Covenant Employer Recognition Scheme, a select group who have all demonstrated the highest levels of commitment to the Armed Forces Community.

The aim is to make sure Riverside is a great place to live or work if you are a member of the Armed Forces Community.

The ethos of the Armed Forces Covenant is a promise that nobody should be disadvantaged as a result of service. The focus on disadvantage is critical, as what the Covenant isn’t is a promise to give veterans an advantage over their civilian counterparts.

The Armed Forces Community have unique experiences that can lead to disadvantage. That could be due to constantly moving around and not being able to put down roots, to sever physical disability suffered during service. But by far the most common experience is the struggle to reintegrate into civilian life after leaving the forces. This can have wide ranging impacts, social isolation, relationship breakdown, mental health issues, and so on. Veterans are also extremely reluctant to ask for help and reluctant to engage in mainstream services.

This I recognise on a personal level, needing help but being phobic to getting it. I’ve heard countless stories similar to my own, not seeking help using the logic that civilians hadn’t done what I’d done, seen what I’d seen, wouldn’t understand and therefore wouldn’t be able to help me. All untrue, but when you are in that mindset it is very real and very difficult to break free from. It is a very real disadvantage as a result of service.

Don’t get me wrong, the perception of veterans as mad bad and dangerous to know isn’t accurate. Most veterans transition to civilian life successfully and make invaluable contributions to society. But for the minority that struggle, having veteran specific services to overcome that barrier to asking for help in the first place is essential.

Even those of us that do struggle through the process of transitioning out of the services, with the right support, have the potential to bring real value to workplaces and communities. This is why veteran specific services play an important role, to help veterans facing a unique disadvantage to realise their full potential.

And that is why we continue to deliver services for veterans, because it creates a viable option for those veterans who wouldn’t access support if veteran services didn’t exist. It isn’t about going above and beyond what we do in our mainstream supported housing as our purpose there is also to support people to overcome disadvantage and realise their potential, it’s simply recognising and overcoming the specific barriers to engagement that veterans face that other groups may not.

But our ability to do that is down to the holders of the purse strings, the Government of the day, recognising the need to continue to fund services for veterans. This is why we have been engaging the main parties in the run up to the election to recognise the need for veteran specific homelessness support and commit to continuing to fund it past July 2025 when the current funding runs out.

I have no doubt of any new potential Government’s commitment to the Armed Forces Community and look forward to working with them to translate that commitment into great outcomes for veterans experiencing homelessness.