Being a former Navy man I had never even heard of the military covenant until a few years ago, so I was fascinated to learn this week that it may be enshrined by parliament into English law.
Top brass in the Army and Royal British Legion are already heralding this announcement as a significant victory. Others are just grateful for any news that might make the plight of over-stretched service personnel and their families a little easier.
Many of those at SSAFA Forces Help on the front line of Kent’s Home Front are a little more sceptical and will wait and see what practical difference this makes to the real lives of service families and veterans across the county.
For those not familiar with the concept, the so called military covenant is all about Britain’s “duty of care” to its armed forces. It began as an informal pact between the army and society dating back to Tudor times and was formally codified as a formal covenant in 2000.
The current written code only refers to the army and amounts to little more than a lot of sugary good intentions and now this ill defined waffle is to be put into law.
Politicians are experts at saying a lot and doing little, particularly when it comes to the treatment of its armed forces and this announcement could represent a master stroke on their part.
Is this truly a sincere move to support the armed services and their families or just more cheap legislative public relations at its most cynical?
You might be surprised to learn how former service men and women are currently prioritised by the NHS, local authority housing officers, home office officials and local education authority jobsworths.
In short, they are not prioritised at all.
Indeed, in far too many cases, serving and former members of the armed forces feel they are being treated like second class citizens, regardless of their service records.
There was the case of a Gurkha veteran in Canterbury desperate for a kidney donor but the UK Border Authority refused to allow his sister a temporary visa on medical grounds, even with letters of support from SSAFA.
There was the case of the Northern Ireland veteran from Ashford who had been diagnosed with PTSD and OCD being made homeless with his wife and baby. He was told by his local housing officer he was not a priority.
There are the hundreds of veterans whose lives are being torn to pieces by the impact of PTSD waiting more than 6 months for their first appointment at Combat Stress. No wonder Kent’s prisons are stuffed full of mentally ill ex-soldiers.
Only today I spoke to a young army Mum who urgently needed schooling for her children on arrival in Kent from Germany, while her husband was away serving in Afghanistan. Did she get any special help?
She didn’t get any help. Indeed, the LEA even admitted verbally that they had ignored their own school entry procedures.
The list goes on and on and it is hard to see how these real life examples across Kent will change overnight just because the government passes a law.
Will service families who are treated shoddily be able to sue the taxpayer for damages?
Will they flash their ID cards and jump the housing queue in front of single parents, refugees or the disabled?
I think not.
If the government is serious about its duty of care to the armed forces it could start by equipping them properly in the field or ceasing casual military intervention in questionable conflicts or even cancelling cuts of front line assets like HMS Ark Royal and the Sea Harriers.
It could try adequate funding of Combat Stress, which supports the growing number of veterans with combat related mental illness.
Please don’t insult the intelligence of the armed forces community with yet more gesture politics.
As one highly decorated former SAS Warrant Officer once told me, having fought for more than 3 years to obtain a war pension from the MOD;
“I don’t want any special favours. I just want what I am entitled to. Nothing more. Nothing less”.