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Nurses are being encouraged to play a leading role in a new initiative to improve veterans’ access to healthcare services, after new data finds thousands of former armed services personnel may be silently struggling with their health.

The initiative, launched by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in conjunction with NHS England and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs (OVA), aims to encourage practice nurses to sign up their practice to become ‘Veteran Friendly’. It is part of a wider government campaign to encourage veterans to seek help and let their GP practice know they’ve served, and raise awareness of the support available to them.

The newly commissioned study of nearly 5,000 veterans in England found that over half (55%) have experienced a mental or physical health issue potentially related to their service since leaving the armed forces – with more than four in five of those (84%) stating that their condition had deteriorated during this time.

Despite this, one in seven (14%) veterans who have experienced service-related issues following leaving the armed forces have not sought help from a healthcare professional. The most common reasons given for not seeking help were that they ‘prefer to manage their issues on their own’ (30%) and they believe a civilian health professional ‘won’t understand their experiences’ (15%).

However, the findings showed that almost two-thirds of veterans (63%) would be more likely to seek help for any issues they might experience if they knew their GP practice was signed up to the Veteran Friendly Accreditation scheme, launched by the RCGP and NHS England in 2018. The support programme helps practices to deliver the best possible care and treatment for patients who have served in the UK armed forces.

As part of this new initiative, the RCGP is encouraging nurses and their GP practices to take the quick and simple step of signing up to the programme, which provides busy practice teams with a simple process for identifying, understanding and supporting veterans and, where appropriate, referring them to dedicated veterans physical and mental health and wellbeing services, such as Op COURAGE: The Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service and Op RESTORE: The Veterans Physical Health and Wellbeing Service.

Nurses can also play the critical role of Veteran Lead for their practice as part of the scheme. Debbie Peach, Queen’s Nurse, Advanced Nurse Practitioner and Veteran Lead at Hartington Surgery, Hartington, Derbyshire, recommends nurses and their practices sign up for the scheme, saying:

“As someone who has served in the armed forces and is a champion for the Veteran Friendly Accreditation scheme, I feel immensely proud to lead my practice team in delivering the very best care and support to veterans in our community.

In addition to helping us to improve health outcomes for our veteran patients, the scheme has provided our team with the confidence, knowledge and access to a wealth of veteran-friendly resources. We actively identify our veteran patients and, when appropriate, refer them to the specialist health services that exist to support them.

Given the data indicating that veterans are more inclined to seek help if they know their practice is Veteran Friendly Accredited, I would encourage all of my nursing colleagues to sign their practices up to this free scheme. The process is quick and easy, yet the impact it can have is profound and long-lasting.”

To date, just over 3,000 of the 6,313 GP practices in England are accredited, with at least one accredited practice in 90% of all primary care networks. An evaluation of the scheme by the University of Chester revealed that 99% of accredited practices recommend it – with the findings showing the most valued benefits of signing up are the simple process for identifying veterans, clear referral pathways to specialist NHS veteran healthcare services and faster access to dedicated support.

Latest data suggests there are 1.74 million veterans – defined as anyone who has served a day or more in the armed forces – in England, with research showing that they may have unique health needs as a result of their service. Common health issues can include musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders, pain, mental health problems, drug and alcohol misuse, adjustment disorders and hearing issues. However, while the average GP practice sees a veteran patient every day, almost half (47%) of practices may be unaware of how many of their patients are veterans.

Army veteran Jon Lynn, a patient at Orchard Surgery, Bromborough, said:

“After I left the military, I really struggled with both my mental and physical health and was at my lowest ebb when I eventually decided to seek help from my GP practice and share my service experiences. They immediately understood my needs and issues and were able to quickly refer me to the specialist health services that exist for veterans, where I was diagnosed with PTSD and given help and support to confront and manage both my mental and physical conditions.

I firmly believe that having access to a Veteran Friendly Accredited GP practice and sharing my status as a veteran saved my life as well as my marriage, enabling me to quickly and easily get the help and support I desperately needed. There are lots of veterans like me who are silently struggling with health issues, and I’d encourage all practices to sign up to the scheme, it could make a life-saving difference to your patients who have served in the armed forces.”

Signing up to become Veteran Friendly Accredited is a quick process and can be done by anyone in the practice team. After signing up, the practice team will receive regular resources and training designed to help them to deliver the very best care and treatment to patients who have served in the armed forces. They also receive materials to promote their Veteran Friendly status, enabling them to send a strong signal to those patients who have served in the armed forces.

Veterans can find out more about the support they can receive by telling their GP practice they have served and by visiting

Practice teams can learn more and get their practice Veteran Friendly Accredited by visiting

For more information on health services for veterans, visit

An image of a Royal Force veteran

Specialist NHS services for veterans

 Op COURAGE provides a broad range of specialist mental health and wellbeing care and support for Service leavers, reservists, veterans and their families. The mental health or wellbeing concern does not need to be attributable to the person’s time in service. Individuals can self-refer to their local service or ask a healthcare professional, charity, family member or friend to do this for them.

Op RESTORE provides care and treatment to those with ongoing, Service-attributable physical injuries and associated problems.  It works closely with NHS trusts, Defence Medical Services, national centres of clinical expertise, Op COURAGE and military charities, to provide holistic care. Access to Op RESTORE requires a GP referral by emailing

Op NOVA provides one to one non-clinical support to veterans who are at risk of being arrested or already have been, are due to leave prison or have been released from prison.  Veterans accessing the service have access to a range of practical and emotional help, along with being supported by an expert case worker. Forces Employment Charity has been commissioned to provide this service by NHS England.


An image of Royal Navy veteran