Veterans Aid
Thursday, 22 August 2013

The hand up NOT the hand-out

Military charity Veterans Aid helps our servicemen and women, and dignity is always their first concern.

Written by Melonie Clarke
Born out of the Great War, Veterans Aid is one of many military charities in the UK today, but unlike other military charities, it focuses on homelessness among ex-servicemen and women. Veterans Aid (VA) does not support the view that there is a causal link between military service and homelessness, but it does offer immediate and practical help for all veterans in crisis.

‘We are, in every sense, the accident and emergency unit for the veteran community in Britain,’ says Dr Hugh Milroy, the charity’s chief executive. ‘We might be small, but our reach is enormous. We are real specialists in this field, and we are highly thought of, highly regarded across the world.’

The ex-military community in the UK stands at around 4.6 million – and around 94 to 96 per cent of those who leave the Armed Forces make a seamless transition to civilian life. But for those who don’t, Veterans Aid is there to help.

Dr Milroy is well aware that homelessness can be a problem for ex-servicemen, but he is also very clear that there are a lot of myths surrounding the issue. ‘For example, “one in four on the streets is ex-military”, which has never been true. I won’t take any nonsense about there being nothing done for the military. There are 2,000 service charities worth £1.1bn, so there is a mass of help out there.

Veterans-Aid-Aug23-03-590Ed plunkett and Rob Kendall after a charity bike ride to raise money for Veterans Aid

‘Some people get in trouble, but it’s an urban myth that prisons are full of veterans. There are many myths, and I think the vast bulk of service people (about 20,000 leave every year, men and women) are perfectly fine and go on to become good citizens.’

The team at the London-based headquarters is 20 strong and full of experts in various fields – Dr Milroy describes them as ‘a powerhouse of expertise’, which is just as well. VA took 3,000 calls asking for help with debt, mental-health issues, addiction and homelessness last year.

With VA’s main aim to help those in need of shelter; finding practical accommodation is vital. Milroy says that as well as a hostel (which is run by ‘two very strong women’) they are always on the lookout for more space.

‘We’re constantly seeking secure accommodation that is sustainable and affordable,’ he says.

As well as working with hotels, he also tells me that they are preparing to move people into the Olympic Village, thanks to support from Mayor Boris Johnson.

It is important that the people the charity helps feel they are moving into a home and not just a box. It’s this that Milroy believes helps them to maintain such a high success rate.

‘When you move in, you move into a home. We don’t just say, “There’s a room, now get on with it.” One of the really important things is we don’t hand out second-hand clothing or furniture. Never.

‘If you go along and you buy something in a charity shop, that’s your choice, but if you have no money, and I give you someone else’s hat, for example, it’s affirming that you’re a second-class citizen. So right from the word go, you’ll get all new clothing, and when you go into your room, it’ll all be repainted. The bedding is new, the furniture is new, and everything about it is new because we’re telling you you’re worthy. We treat people with absolute dignity.’


So what plans are there for the charity’s future? Sitting in Dr Milroy’s office, which serves as a storeroom as well as his accommodation when he stays in town, it is hardly surprising that one of their main priorities is more space.

‘We’ve got a real need to get bigger premises here in central London. There are 20 of us in the office. The other day one of the team was interviewing someone on the stairs; it’s not ideal, but we just get on with it.’

After talking to Milroy and hearing the stories of those they have helped, one thing is clear. Veterans Aid is a place of hope. Veterans Aid is the hand up, not the hand-out. The handout is dead easy, the hand up is not. It’s exciting – you’ll see people’s lives transforming.

‘Winston Churchill said never doubt the effect of a small band of dedicated people, and that’s really what we’re about here. We just get on with it; we’re needed now. We have no agenda, we have a fight against poverty – and we are doing it, in our own small way.’

If you know of any ex-servicemen/ women in crisis, who are homeless or facing homelessness, please direct them to: Veterans Aid, 40 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1: 020-7828 2468, or 07806-920087, 

Other military charities

Royal Navy Officers’ Charity
Formed in 1739, the charity provides support and financial assistance to serving and retired Royal Navy and Royal Marine Officers and spouses and dependants at home and overseas. Support includes assistance to those on low incomes, care-home fees, scholarships and retraining to gain employment
020-7402 5231,

The Royal British Legion Women’s Section
Formed in 1921 to safeguard the interests of wives, widows and children of men who served in the Great War 020-3207 2181,

The RAF Benevolent Fund
The RAF’s leading welfare charity spends more than £22m each year supporting more than 68,000 people. They provide a spectrum of care, supporting everyone from children growing up on RAF stations and those serving today to keep our skies safe, to the veterans who fought for our freedom
020-7580 8343,

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