Twigg Interview in RBL Summer Magazine

... and also HERE
Why, Minister?
Why don’t GPs know about priority treatment? Why can’t veterans wear the PJM medal? Why no inquiry into Gulf War Syndrome? Veterans Minister Derek Twigg answers Legion’s questions

Derek Twigg has been the Minister for Veterans since September 2006, having previously served as Transport Minister and School Standards Minister. The MP for Halton has a love of military history – particularly World War II and anything related to Crete – and can claim proudly that his grandfather won the Military Medal in World War I. Yet, in a recent Legion website poll, only 17 per cent of respondents thought he was doing a good job. Here, he answers Legion’s questions ...

Last year, your colleague, the Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth, said: "There are areas where we have made significant progress, but we must do more." So what can Legion members expect to see over the next 12 months?
In mental health, we’ve announced pilots, the first two – Camden and Stafford – are already up and running. In terms of combat-stress money, we’ve announced a 40% increase from January. In priority treatment, we’re working with the Department of Health to ensure it’s publicised to veterans to a much larger degree. We’re also working with the Departments of Work and Pensions, Education and Local Government to see what else we can do. It’s all building up to the Command Paper, which will come out in late spring or early summer. We’re not complacent – we’ve got to examine what else we can do.

How will you ensure that other Government departments respond to the needs of veterans?
I have ministerial meetings with these departments and there is now a more joined-up approach between the various ministers. The other departments are supportive of veterans’ issues and are all keen to see what they can do. We’ve already seen the Department of Local Government and Communities do away with the bias against service personnel in terms of local connections and the Housing Act. And in terms of health we’re getting priority treatment and the mental health pilots.

Yet Legion readers tell us they struggle to get priority treatment – why is that?
This has been the case in the past, but the Department of Health has written recently to all Primary Care Trusts, so all GPs should now be aware. The key to it now is to police the system and assess how well it’s working. We need to make sure that it’s at the forefront of GPs’ minds. To give you an example of a success story, the standard of prosthetic limbs that our people get at Headley Court rehabilitation centre is state-of-the-art. But how do we ensure that when they’re discharged into the NHS, any replacements or maintenance they need is up to the same standard? Well, I’ve talked to the health minister and the response was very sympathetic. One of our people is talking to health trusts around the country – so there’s a lot of cooperation going on.

The Legion wants GPs to be able to access records of personnel who’ve been medically discharged…
Currently, they take a summary with them and GPs can request the full records. However, we are developing a new IT system in Defence for medical records that will link into the NHS computer system and bring benefits. The Defence Select Committee has raised this issue and we will be responding to it in more detail.

What about the compensation scheme?
It is under continuous review, although the main review will be after five years to give it time to bed down. The main lesson we’ve learned so far is that the injuries some people are suffering and surviving from is not what we would have expected a couple of years ago – given improvements in body armour and medical treatment. Further changes are always possible as we are reviewing it constantly.

The Royal British Legion estimates that the most recent changes will only benefit around 10 people a year, so shouldn’t you be looking to make changes more quickly?
You have to put it into context – the key difference from the previous scheme is that you now get compensation in service. You didn’t get that before, so that’s an improvement. We want to focus the most help on the most seriously injured. Quite a number of those will get the guaranteed income payment – it’s a sizeable amount of money over a lifetime – hundreds of thousands of pounds. People seem to focus only on the maximum of £285,000, which, incidentally, is more than the cap on the civil scheme. And there’s no cap with the guaranteed income payment, it’s for as long as you live. We believe it’s a good model, but we will continue to look at how we can improve it.

On Gulf War veterans, the Legion has requested more help, more support and an Independent Public Inquiry. Why hasn’t this happened?
I went to the Legion’s Gulf War Conference last year – so we’re more than happy to talk about it – but the research doesn’t show a distinct illness. So, on those grounds, we don’t see the need for a public inquiry. But, if there is new research that shows otherwise, we will give it consideration. People are clearly ill, and it has an effect on their lives and their families. We do recognise that.

Has the Honour the Covenant campaign changed the relationship between the Legion and the Ministry?
I think the relationship is very good. We see it very much as a partnership. The Legion often says, for example, that things are very good in health, but certain things could be improved. However, the press doesn’t print the positive stuff, so you only tend to hear the downside from any campaign.
I was at Chester’s British Legion recently. There were 70-80 people there and a lot didn’t know about all the work we are doing. I believe we’re doing more than ever before.

Has Veterans Day changed public awareness?
There is research that shows greater awareness. But I won’t mislead anyone, it’s not as if Veterans Day has the same focus in the public mind as Remembrance Day, but I do think it will get there. We’ve got events in 40 major cities and towns this year, so it’s getting more prominence. The key thing is that it’s not remembrance, it’s a celebration of veterans. We’ll be doing a big PR campaign, I’ll visit places and there’ll be MP and House of Lords events too.

Why can’t veterans wear the Pingat Jasa Malaysia?
I get a lot of letters about this medal, but it’s a Foreign Office matter. I do understand the concerns and I am sympathetic. I have done what I can and made sure that the veterans’ views have been heard in Government.

Are you confident more people are getting help now, than when you became Veterans Minister?
Perhaps, over the past three or four decades, as a Government, we haven’t done as much as we could. But I’m confident that since the post was created – and since the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency was set up – there is more help available and a bigger focus in Government on veterans than before. With PTSD and mental health, there is more help available. It’s difficult to quantify, but there is more awareness and more people are seeking help.

Has being Veterans Minister changed you?
I’ve always had good relations with the veterans in my constituency, and there’s my family history with my grandfather winning the Military Medal in World War I. What has struck me is how modest people are – often people who’ve done incredibly brave things. It’s not the kind of job where you can hide away. But Government as a whole wants to do more for veterans – we’re all working together much better to improve things.


Surely the O2 thief tag was invented for him?

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