To date, all current and former members of the UK armed forces may submit a claim for injury or illness that has been sustained as a result of service. There are two types of benefits available under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme:
- a tax-free lump sum, the size of which reflects the severity of the illness or injury.
- a tax-free index loaned monthly Guaranteed Income Payment, which is paid from the point of discharge for life.
However, a “holistic view” of those leaving the service with physical injuries has found that the complexity of the AFCS, uncertainty of payments, and long wait periods have caused the need for support from other organisations to understand and access compensation.
For example, while financial support is available, there were difficulties in understanding what they were “eligible to claim.” Similarly, the report suggests that many participants experienced anxiety due to uncertainty about how much payment they will receive:, with one respondent commenting as follows:
“The biggest thing was knowing I was getting money but not knowing how much I was getting, and I only knew about three/four weeks before my discharge date. To me, that is too late.”
The report reflects the views of various MPs in the House of Commons. Owen Thompson has suggested that the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme is a “national scandal that should have us all hanging our heads in shame” as it “operates in a way that discourages veterans from pursuing their claims.” Ms. Anum Qaisar then goes further by suggesting that a lack of transparency and extended delays has resulted in the “severe deterioration in the mental health of veterans and have driven many into poverty.” These are strong criticisms of a scheme that is supposed to support and assist injured veterans. They echo the experiences of some with negative experiences of the scheme. One individual commented:
“I had stress in my life, stress in my marriage, stress financially because we are financially crippled now. All of my pay-out, right, not just from the military side of it, but my normal pension, I had to use all of that to clear debt that I had built up when I was injured because we couldn’t afford childcare, so my wife had to give up her job and care for me.”
Justine Montgomery is one of the many veterans who have expressed their disappointment with the current compensation scheme. Justine joined the RAF with no pre-existing conditions. However, after sustaining an injury to her knee while in service, she was medically discharged, left unable to walk, and in need of lifelong medication. Despite this, her application for compensation was rejected. She has described the process as “tedious, draining and near enough impossible to complete, let alone progress with.”
The report concludes that veterans must continuously battle the system to get the compensation they deserve. It is time to move to a more personalised, trauma-informed approach to compensation. The Armed Forces Compensation Scheme centralises on one-off payments, but the reality for those who have been medically discharged is conditions that are “evolving and deteriorating and necessitate coming back for additional payments.” Communication regarding compensation, whether through the AFCS or civil claims, must be improved to ensure that all service leavers with physical, neurological, and mental health conditions have the support necessary to transition to civilian life.
It is a disgrace that those who put their lives on the line and suffer injury whilst in service to their country, are failed by the Government scheme designed to assist them. At Hugh James we act for many individuals who have been medically discharged with conditions such as noise induced hearing loss, only to find their claims under the AFCS rejected on the basis they do not suffer sufficient levels of hearing loss to be able to claim. We are frequently able to assist such veterans with a civil claim and can also advise on whether the decision under the AFCS should be challenged. We entirely endorse the findings in the report from the University of Salford and hope the Government will take urgent action to address the failings identified.