ARMED forces veterans are facing a threat from an enemy they cannot see.

That threat is mental illness - and can deal a fatal blow long after a soldier has left the theatre of war and the military.

While Scottish armed forces veterans have waited over two years for a recommended mental health plan after concerns over suicides - a Scottish university is now playing a key role in a new UK-wide study on the psychological health and wellbeing of families of ex-service men and women.

Two years ago, a report by Eric Fraser, the first Scottish veterans commissioner revealed Scots wounded war heroes had been failed by the Government and a covenant to protect them was “meaningless”.

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He highlighted that more needs to be done urgently to meet the long-term specialist health and social care needs of the veterans population in Scotland, which is estimated to be around 240,000, or roughly 5% of the population.

A total of 47 serving or retired soldiers had ended their lives in the first ten months of that year - an average of one person every six days - according to an independent study.

It prompted the Scottish mental health minister Clare Haughey to publicly pledge closer consideration of the mental healthcare of Scottish soldiers and veterans.

The Herald: EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JUNE 27: Clare Haughey MSP in the lobby of the Scottish Parliament after being appointed as Minister for Mental Health in the reshuffle of the Scottish Government by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, on June 27, 2018 in Edinburgh, Scot

The Scottish Government-appointed commissioner's called on minister to develop a Mental Health Action Plan for veterans for the long-term delivery of services. It has still to be delivered.

The Scottish Government's Support for Veterans strategy published in January, said that the action plan was a "key objective and early priority of the National Veterans Care Network, developed by NHS National Services Scotland, announced in December. Indications are it might be up and running later this year.

Ministers say it has to complement Scotland’s 10 year Mental Health Strategy and veterans have parity of care, no matter where they are located in Scotland.

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) psychologists are now part of a team of researchers commissioned by the Forces in Mind Trust to identify the needs of military veterans’ families and offer much-needed recommendations on how best to support them.

The launch of the project coincides with the 75th anniversary of VE Day, a tribute to those who served in one of the most significant events in our country’s history, the Second World War.

Specific challenges faced by families of military personnel include the need to move to different bases, upset and worry during times of deployment and potential economic, social, and psychological issues when transitioning from military to civilian life.

The Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) has awarded a £306,956 grant to an academic at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) to lead the two-year study in partnership with other top research institutions including GCU, King’s College London, Anglia Ruskin University and Cardiff University.

Scottish lead and co-investigator in the study, Dr Kareena McAloney-Kocaman, a senior lecturer in applied health psychology at GCU, said the project will “play a pivotal role in building our knowledge of the challenges faced by these families, and of how best to support them”.

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She added: “We are delighted to contribute to this important research that seeks to better understand the experience of the families of military veterans.

“The family members of military veterans experience unique challenges due to the nature of a military career including not only the challenges of that career, but the transition from a military to civilian life.

“GCU has a strong commitment to support the health and well-being of our military veteran community, within GCU and more broadly within Scotland.”

Veteran suicide has been described as "the hidden epidemic" as hard data on the numbers is not kept.

Last year, it was estimated the Ministry of Defence spends £22m a year on mental healthcare for veterans, but military charities argued that that was not enough.

Charlie Wallace, the Scottish Veterans Commissioner said there was hope that the long-awaited Mental Health Action Plan for veterans in Scotland will materialise.

“I understand that the development is to be pursued through the Scottish Veterans Care Network announced by Veterans Minister Graeme Dey in December 2019," he said.

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"I was involved in the appointment of Dr Lucy Abraham as Network Clinical Lead, who took up her position in March. Last month I received a very reassuring update from NHS National Services Scotland, responsible for developing the network, that while Covid is causing some disruption, progress continues and it is hoped that the network will launch later this year.”

Earlier this week the military support group All Call Signs rescued five suicidal veterans duing lockdown and issued a warning that more lives are at risk.

It said it had seen a massive surge in troops battling mental health issues since the March 23 stay at home order.

And earlier this month Prince Harry launched a mental fitness support initiative for veterans and people working in the defence industry. Called HeadFIT for Life, the initiative's website is designed to help defense people stay mentally fit and on top of their game by using advice and practical tools to cope with mental health.

"I would like the Scottish Government to adopt a distinct Scottish approach to veterans health.  They have given the most and they deserve the most."  Video by Scottish Veterans Commissioner, Eric Fraser on April, 2018.

The new study is due to begin in September 2020 and the charity sector partner is Combat Stress, the UK's leading veterans' mental health charity supporting veterans affected by anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Through a survey, in-depth interviews and focus groups with families, the research will examine the drivers that support psychological wellbeing as well as the challenges that come with having a member of the family in the Armed Forces. It will also identify the likely future needs of ex-Armed Forces families.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We are committed to ensuring that all veterans living in Scotland are able to access the best possible care and support, including safe, effective and personalised healthcare, and our mental health strategy reinforces our commitment to further improve support for veterans and their families.

“Our focus is currently on ensuring that veterans can access services during the Covid-19 pandemic but work will be undertaken on the Mental Health Action Plan, through the new National Veteran Care Network, as soon as this is possible, building on the range of resources and services which we have taken forward to date.

“We are working with a range of organisations, including Combat Stress and Veterans First Point, to ensure the delivery of services that meet the needs of veterans. We will provide over £2 million of funding to veterans’ services this financial year to provide a range of specialist and community based services for veterans resident in Scotland.”