What help is available to me if I suffer an injury?
Getting help before leaving the forces
Leaving the armed forces after sustaining an injury can be a very daunting process.
It is important that you speak to your medical officer while you are still serving, to get the medical treatment you need. If you are told you will have to be medically discharged then you may be allowed to continue serving while you complete your treatment, for example if you need to have rehabilitation, or you are being treated for a mental health condition. You should speak to your medical officer if you have concerns about your treatment, and you can also raise this when you attend a medical board as a decision could be made to extend your service (to allow you to complete your treatment).
Once you are discharged you are entitled to medical care under the NHS and there are steps you will need to take to access treatment.
Learning to live with your injury
Adapting to life with an injury can be challenging and you will need to make sure you have the right support in place. When you’re dealing with a physical injury it can be easy to overlook the effects on your mental wellbeing and likewise, when coping with an injury to your mental health, you can overlook your physical wellbeing. It is important that you continue to look after both your physical and mental health to aid in your recovery and adjustment to life after the forces.
Claiming help from the AFCS
You may be entitled to a payment under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) if you have been injured or suffered an illness as a result of your military service.
Accessing medical treatment after leaving the military
It is important that any treatment you were receiving while you were serving can continue. You should register with a local GP so you can receive prescription medications and access NHS services. To find out how to register with a GP surgery go the NHS website.
It is a good idea when you register to make your GP aware that you have served in the military and which branch you served in, whether that is the Army, Navy or RAF. You should be provided with a copy of your summary medical record when you leave, which will let your GP know how to obtain your service medical records. More information on this can be found here.
Not all GPs will be familiar with the types of medical issues that veterans may suffer from. To help address this issue, the Royal College of General Practitioners is working with NHS England and NHS Improvement to accredit GP practices as ‘veteran friendly’. Being accredited means that a practice can better identify and treat veterans and refer them, when needed, to dedicated NHS services. More information can be found on the Royal College of General Practitioners website.
The Veterans Trauma Network is a service available in selected NHS health centres across England which provides care and treatment to those injured during their time in the armed forces. Veterans accessing this service will be cared for by military and civilian clinicians who understand the nature and context of their injuries. You will need to speak to your GP for a referral.
Accessing dental care, an optician and an audiologist
Finding a Dentist
You don’t need to register with a specific local NHS Dentist as there are no catchment areas (unlike GP surgeries). You can simply find a dental surgery that is convenient to you, whether it’s near your home or work place, and phone them to see if they have any appointments available.
You can search for NHS dentists in your area on the NHS website.
Dentistry is one of the few NHS services where you have to pay a contribution towards the cost of your care. You can check here what you may have to pay for your NHS treatment. You may be eligible for an exemption if you are in receipt of certain benefits and you can check this here.
Finding an Optician
You can find an optician and see if you are entitled to free NHS eye tests here.
Finding an Audiologist
You should speak to your GP if you notice any problems with your hearing. You can find more details about the signs and symptoms of hearing loss on the NHS website.
You can get a free hearing test on the NHS. A GP may refer you to a hearing specialist (audiologist) who can do the test.
It could take a few weeks to see a specialist so it might be quicker to get a test somewhere else, like at a large pharmacy or opticians, such as Specsavers.
If you have suffered hearing loss or tinnitus there are a number of charities who can provide information and support, including:
Building your community
Leaving the armed forces means leaving a community behind. It can be difficult to replicate the same sense of community in civilian life, which can leave many veterans feeling isolated. This can be a very serious issue and particularly for those veterans who have relocated while they were serving, meaning that are not living close to friends or family. Feeling isolated can be a big factor in someone suffering from low mood or depression.
Throughout the UK there are a growing number of Drop-In centres where any member of the armed forces community and their families can go for support, help and advice. To find out what exists in your area you can search the Association of ex-Service Drop-In Centres directory.
There may be groups local to you that run coffee mornings and other events that give you an opportunity to meet with other veterans and other members of your community.
There is also The Armed Forces & Veteran’s Breakfast Clubs which arranges face to face meetups for veterans and serving personnel.
Volunteering can be a great way to meet people and get involved in your local community. You can find opportunities with:
- Step Together
- The Royal British Legion
- PTSD Resolution
- Combat Stress
- Walking with the Wounded
- Veterans Lifeline
You can also find a lot of support groups online through Facebook.
There may be groups local to you that run coffee mornings and other events that give you an opportunity to meet with other veterans and other members of your community.
Charities that support injured veterans
If you have been injured during your service and end up leaving, either voluntarily or as a result of medical discharge, it is important that you continue to access treatment for your injury through the NHS.
You should speak to your GP about what services are available to you including mental health services.
If you are struggling to access NHS services or feel like you need additional support then there are a number of charities who might be able to help fund treatment or provide specialist aids and equipment.
The Royal British Legion fund and support recovery centres across the country helping wounded, injured and sick personnel and veterans. There also offer help with securing funding for aids and equipment and any home adaptations you might need. You can find more information about their services here. You can find your local RBL branch by searching here. If you can’t find a service near you then you contact their helpline.
SSAFA – the Armed Forces Charity provides help and support to veterans suffering with a physical disability and their families.
Blesma provides help for veterans who have lost a limb and can offer specialist services such as advice for those who need a prosthetic limb, and information about returning to work and getting financial support.
Forward Assist support veterans who are struggling to adjust to civilian life. Their work is aimed at supporting marginalised, socially isolated or disenfranchised veterans.
Claiming through the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme
The Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (“AFCS”) exists to compensate service personnel and veterans who have been injured during their service or have suffered a service-related illness or mental health condition. It is one route for obtaining compensation.
You can apply for compensation while you are serving or after you have left (subject to the time limits below).
If you think you are entitled to compensation then it is important to take advice from a solicitor as you may have a legal claim for your injury. You should take advice as early as possible and not wait until you have been awarded or refused compensation under the AFCS, as it can take several months and sometimes years to get a decision.
What is the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme?
The AFCS compensates service personnel and veterans for any injury or illness which was caused by service on or after 6th April 2005.
There are 2 main types of AFCS awards:
- A tax free lump sum payment for pain and suffering;
- A Guaranteed Income Payment (GIP) which is a tax free, index-linked monthly payment.
The rules of the scheme and the value of the payments awarded are set by Parliament and are calculated by reference to a tariff system.
The War Pension Scheme compensates for any injury, illness or death which was caused by service before 6 April 2005. Details of that scheme can be found here.
Claims for injury or illness must be made within 7 years of the earliest of the following dates:
- the date of the incident leading to the injury or illness;
- the date on which an injury or illness not caused by service was made worse by service;
- in the case of illness, the date of first seeking medical advice for that illness;
- the date of discharge.
In some circumstances, a claim might be accepted after 7 years. You should contact Veterans UK to get advice.
How do I submit a claim?
To submit an AFCS claim you will need to complete a claim form.
You will be asked to provide some basic information, including:
- what your condition, injury and/or illness is;
- why you think that your injury or illness was caused by your service; and
- what medical treatment you have received.
You should include as much information as possible, and it can be helpful to provide documents in support of your claim such as an accident report form or a report from your Medical Officer.
Once you have submitted the claim form, Veterans UK will request copies of all of your medical records. If you have received treatment outside of the military you will need to provide details for your GP and any hospitals where you have been treated.
You may need to attend a medical examination to have your injury or illness assessed. Once the process is complete you will receive a letter confirming the decision and the reasoning behind it.
If you disagree with the decision that has been made then you can ask for it to be reconsidered. This will mean that someone not involved in making the initial decision will look at the claim again. You must request a reconsideration in writing within 12 months of being notified of the original decision.
Appealing your decision
If you claim has been reconsidered but you are still unhappy about the decision then you will usually have the right to appeal. This must be done with 12 months of the decision letter and you will need to submit an Appeal Form.
If you are entitled to an award under the AFCS and have a potential civil claim, then nothing should stop you from claiming through both routes. In fact we encourage you to do so because you may not succeed in both routes and the process can take time.
Living with an injury
Suffering a serious injury during your military service can be a devastating event. This is true for anyone who is injured but it is especially difficult when you are in a career where you need to stay physically fit to be able to do your job. You will be facing the uncertainty of whether you career will be ended.
Depending on the type of injury you have suffered you may be facing many months of rehabilitation or the prospect of having surgery and needing lifelong medical care and treatment. If you have suffered a psychiatric injury such as Post-traumatic stress disorder you are likely to need specialist treatment.
If you have issues with pain or mobility that impact your ability to carry out day-to-day activities then you may need specialist aids and equipment or adaptations may be needed to your home.
Getting treatment while you are serving
While you are serving you are entitled to access medical services which are offered by the Defence Medical Services. The role of the Defence Medical Service is to ensure that all members of the Navy, Army and RAF have access to the medical treatment they need. The services they offer include primary healthcare, dental care, rehabilitation, occupational medicine, community mental healthcare and specialist medical care.
If you are injured during your service you should in theory have access to some of the best medical care in the world through treatment centres such as the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Stanford Hall. We know from speaking to clients that this doesn’t always happen. Asking for help isn’t something that comes naturally to service personnel but it is really important that you speak to your Medical Officer about getting the right treatment and support while you are serving, and what steps you will need to take to get the help you need once you have left the military.
The types of injuries suffered by service personnel can often leave them vulnerable to developing longer term conditions such as chronic pain. We see this in the case of Non-Freezing Cold Injuries (NFCI) and serious orthopaedic injuries.
Suffering with pain can have a huge psychological impact and might lead to someone suffering with a mental health condition which might then deter them from being active or stop them from engaging with treatment.
More information on living with chronic pain can be found on the NHS website.
The Centre for Veterans’ Health at the King Edward VII’s Hospital runs a specialist Pain Management Programme, which is designed to help veterans who have been suffering with chronic pain to get the correct assessment, diagnosis and treatment. The hospital has been supporting member of the armed forces since 1899 and provides grants to assist with treatment costs. More information can be found here.
Living with an injury can be very isolating, particularly if you can’t easily get out and see people.
There are a number of charities that aim to support people who have been injured. You can find details for charities offering specialist advice and support here.
There may be ways of meeting other veterans in person or remotely and you can find details here.
Getting help with aids, equipment and adaptions
If you need help with equipment and adaptations or someone to help with household tasks such as cleaning or shopping then you can apply to your local authority who will carry out an assessment of your needs. You can find more information here.
The charity Scope have some helpful information on their website about getting the right equipment or assistive technology.
Returning to work
If you have spent a period out of work because of injury the prospect of returning to work can be very daunting. It is important that when looking for work that you consider what aspects of a job you might find difficult. For example, if you suffer with a musculoskeletal injury you may want to avoid a job that forces you to be sat down or stood up for long periods without a break. Similarly if you suffer with a NFCI you need to work in a temperature controlled environment.
When starting a new job it might feel difficult to speak up but it is important that you let your employer know that you suffer with an injury if adaptations need to be made to allow you to do your job effectively. You can find more information about finding work after leaving the military here.
RFEA: The Forces Employment Charity offer advice to injured veterans who are looking for civilian employment.
While you are serving you are entitled to access medical services which are offered by the Defence Medical Services.
The medical discharge process
Between 1st April 2022 and 31st March 2023 there were a total of 1,576 medical discharges from the armed forces, broken down as follows:
- Navy: 396
- Army: 964
- RAF: 216
What is the procedure for a medical discharge?
If you are injured or develop a medical condition whilst serving that affects your ability to perform your duties, and this does not resolve within a matter of months, then you will usually be referred to a medical board for a medical examination and a review of your medical grading.
If it is clear that your injury or illness means that you fall below the service employment and retention standards then the board will recommend a medical discharge.
Before you go to a medical board it is likely that you will be medically downgraded to allow you time to complete your treatment and to try and prevent your injury or illness from getting worse.
Going to a medical board does not mean that you will automatically be medically discharged. A decision might be made that you can continue serving but with either temporary or permanent medical restrictions.
You can find more information about the process and how medical conditions are graded here.
What happens once you have been medically discharged?
You should be provided with a record of your medical board (FMED23) and told when your last day of service will be. You may end up serving for another 6 to 12 months after your medical board hearing.
It is important that you continue to attend any medical appointments you have, and carry on with any treatment. You should also speak to your medical officer about the treatment you will need once you leave and how you should access this treatment. You can find more information about this here.
You can also find out more here about adapting to living with an injury.
There has been criticism about the support provided to veterans and those going through the transition from military to civilian life. In response, the government launched a strategy to support veterans in 2018 to try and smooth this transition. Since then, the government has updated it strategy and created an Action Plan which can be accessed here.
Defence Transition Service
The Defence Transition Service now exists to provide support and guidance for those leaving the armed forces with in relation to areas such as:
- drugs and alcohol misuse
- finance and debt
- children, family and relationships
- training and education
- supporting agencies.
Details for how to access their services can be found here.
Going through resettlement
Resettlement starts up to 2 years before you are due to leave the armed forces and continues for up to 2 years after discharge. In the case of wounded injured and sick (WIS) personnel this timeline can be longer, depending on the nature of their condition and their medical pathway.
Resettlement is delivered in three stages:
- You will need to make contact with a Resettlement Information Staff Officer, who will give you information about what help is available, offer administrative support and direct you to where you need to go to access the services that are available.
- A Service Resettlement Adviser will give you advice and guidance on the resettlement package which will best suit you according to your employment/vocational needs.
- Tri-service support is then provided by the Career Transition Partnership.
For all three services, the main causes of medical discharges were Musculoskeletal Disorders and Injuries and Mental and Behavioural Disorders.
Mental health and wellbeing
Mental health can often be overlooked, however leaving the forces and the family environment that it entails can have a serious effect on your mental health. Don’t underestimate it. It is important to take care of your mental health in the same way you look after your physical health.
How do I look after my mental health?
Between 1st April 2019 and 31st March 2020 mental health and behavioural disorders were responsible for 25% of Naval service medical discharges, 33% of Army medical discharges and 43% of RAF medical discharges. It is now recognised that service personnel are vulnerable to suffering from mental health conditions, and more is being done to ensure that treatment and support is available.
One of the first steps in looking after your own mental health is accepting that you need help and asking for it. If you have any concerns about the way you are feeling then you should speak to your Medical Officer who will make an assessment, and may refer you to the Department of Community Mental Health for further assessment and treatment.
For many people, it is not until after they leave service, that they experience symptoms such as low mood or anxiety and realise that they need to get medical help. If you have already left the military, then the first person to speak to about any concerns regarding your mental health is your GP, who will be able to tell you what support and services are available to you locally.
Recognising the symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.
The symptoms can include:
- Reliving the traumatic events in the form of flashbacks or nightmares;
- Avoidance behaviours such as avoiding people or places that remind you of the trauma;
- Hyperarousal or feeling ‘on edge’ which can lead to irritability, angry outbursts, difficulty concentrating and problems sleeping.
People with PTSD may also suffer with other mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. They may develop destructive behaviours such as self-harming or alcohol misuse. They may also experience physical symptom such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches.
You can find out more about the symptoms of PTSD and recommended treatment on the NHS website
Who can I speak to if I’m struggling with my mental health?
The Veterans’ Mental Health Transition, Intervention and Liaison (TIL) Service is a free NHS mental health service for all ex-serving members of the armed forces and service personnel who are making the transition to civilian life.
PTSD Resolution is a charity that helps veterans, reservists and families who are struggling to reintegrate into a normal work and family life because of trauma suffered during service in the armed forces. Their programme is community-based, with treatment and support provided locally through a nationwide network of 200 therapists.
Combat Stress is the UK’s leading charity for veterans’ mental health. They provide specialist treatment and support for veterans, focusing on those with complex mental health issues related to their military service.
Mind provides helpful resources for anyone living, or supporting someone, with a mental health condition.