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Recording veteran suicides is only the first step in suicide prevention

Sep 29th, 2021

Andrew Cragg, Partner

After years of campaigning by veterans’ groups and bereaved families, the government is starting to count veteran suicides. This is welcome by many, but just the first step in preventing veteran suicides. Collecting more accurate figures will allow the government to provide a better level of care to serving and retired veterans. There are already a number of service men and women struggling with their mental health that need immediate help, and they must be identified as soon as possible. 

Our work around preventable suicides

Much of our work around preventable suicides is identifying the failings of the ‘system’ which the person has found themselves in as a result of declining mental health or even brain injury. We frequently see the system fail to categorise the deceased correctly, for example inadequately putting in place protective mechanisms for the person in question, organising premature discharge from mental health services and failing to follow up and revisit risk assessments when there is an escalation in behaviour.

Mental health services in the UK are under-funded and under-resourced. Sadly, we see failings that can occur in the mental health sector, and the impact which these have on victims and their families.

It is estimated that up to 82 veterans killed themselves last year, the highest number since 2005. The current rate of suicide among male soldiers serving is 15 per 100,000 personnel, which in comparison with the rest of the population, the rate is 11.2 deaths per 100,000, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Dialogue around mental health is opening up

Conversation surrounding mental health is more open now than it ever has been. We have seen in recent months high profile sports stars opening up about their mental health struggles and taking action where necessary to protect their own mental health. These actions certainly help to encourage us all to be open about our own, and others, mental health but this is not enough.

Get help

If anyone is struggling to cope, Samaritans have a free service which is available around the clock every single day of the year and can be contacted on 116 123 (UK and Ireland).

If in the very worst case scenario and lawyers do need to be consulted, as a consequence of a preventable suicide, it is important to note that help navigating the Coronial process is available and most specialist clinical negligence solicitors will provide this assistance and thereafter assist in establishing a legal claim, through the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934, Fatal Accidents Act 1976 and under the Human Rights Act 1998.

Limitation period is one year after the date of death

It is important to note the timescales, called the Limitation period, of pursuing such claims, particularly under the Human Rights Act whereby such a claim must be brought within one year of the date of death, compared to three years where claims are being pursued under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 and Fatal Accidents Act 1976.  This means that the claim must be concluded within these timescales and if not, Court Proceedings must be issued to protect the claim going forwards. 

Extension to a limitation period is possible

Another alternative is to seek an extension to the Limitation Period.  Defendants are prepared to consider extensions to a Limitation Period which is especially helpful in a claim relating to the Human Rights Act because, unfortunately, due to the nature of the investigations required by the Coroner, and due to Covid-19, it is often the case that the Inquest process is still ongoing at or around the one year anniversary of death.  In the event that an agreement to extend the Limitation Period cannot be reached, there will be a need to issue Court Proceedings.

Get advice

As with all clinical negligence claims, it is best to seek advice from a specialist clinical negligence practitioner and one who holds membership of the Law Society’s Clinical Negligence Accreditation Scheme, the AvMA (Action Against Medical Accidents),  Specialist Clinical Negligence Panel or APIL Specialist Accreditation.

For confidential advice, please do contact us.

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Andrew Cragg

Partner

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