Ensuring older veterans are supported with sight and hearing loss

As people get older, sight and hearing may be affected as part of the natural ageing process. Sometimes though an older person will have worse problems with sight or hearing than might otherwise have been the case because of their military service.

Veterans who were exposed to loud noise from small arms fire, artillery, engines, other machinery or explosives are at particular risk of developing hearing loss. Research has found links between sight loss and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

There is a wealth of support available specifically for veterans with sight and hearing loss but unfortunately many are missing out either because they are unaware it is available, or because they don’t realise they count as a veteran.

Anyone aged 65 years and older who has done and received pay for at least one day’s service in the UK Armed Forces is classed as an older veteran. That includes national servicemen, reservists and merchant navy who have supported a military operation.

Age Scotland has combined forces with Action on Hearing Loss and Scottish War Blinded to raise awareness among Scotland’s veterans of the need to act swiftly if they are having problems with their hearing or vision. Getting the right support in place can make a massive difference to someone’s quality of life.

Isa, age 88, first experienced sight loss problems in her mid-eighties. She said:

“It came on quite quickly. I just couldn’t see. It was as though there was something on my eyes, and I was rubbing them to try and get rid of it.”

A couple of weeks later she visited her GP and was referred to the Royal Alexandria Hospital, which diagnosed macular degeneration. A quick medical referral gave her answers about the causes of her condition, but little else. “After the hospital treatment I didn’t see anyone, and I was left to cope alone.”

The council sensory impairment team visited Isa and referred her to Scottish War Blinded. Over the following year she was visited by an Outreach Worker and benefited from home visits from the charity’s local rehabilitation officer, who provided guidance and a CCTV reader that enabled Isa to continue her hobby of knitting.

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Then Scottish War Blinded’s Hawkhead Centre opened in Paisley. “At first I thought it wasn’t for me, I told them I was too old. Now the Hawkhead drivers come and pick me up and drop me home again each week, which is great.”

She is involved with “everything”; from yoga, to art and crafts activities, to social music groups. “Around the house I’m fine, but I’m not confident to go outside on my own other than to the shop across the road so I love going to the centre. It’s smashing.”

With support from the centre’s Rehabilitation Officer she has also benefitted from equipment, including cup levels that enable her to make a cup of tea at home, and a talking watch to keep track of the time.

Getting the right support in place can make a huge difference – but sometimes it’s tricky to know where to start. Age Scotland have worked with Action on Hearing Loss Scotland and Scottish War Blinded to produce a new publication to help veterans find the support they are entitled to. You can download the guide below or request a free copy be posted to you by calling the Age Scotland helpline on 0800 12 44 222.

Download ‘Combating Sight and Hearing Loss – Advice for older people with a military service background’.

Age Scotland logo, Scottish War Blinded logo, Action on Hearing Loss logo


Action on Hearing Loss Scotland’s Hearing Forces project, Age Scotland and Scottish War Blinded are members of the ‘Unforgotten Forces’ Consortium which is a partnership between 15 leading organisations led by Poppyscotland which is delivering a range of new and enhanced services to older veterans.

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Squaddie banter and a cuppa – support for Veterans in Falkirk

Just turned two, Falkirk Veterans is already making a big difference for veterans in Forth Valley, many of them older. In her guest blog Falkirk Veterans Chair Maggie Brown tells us more about this important service.


Falkirk Veterans aims to enable veterans, and often also currently service personnel, in getting together to ‘return to the tribe’ and become stronger, together. We have a Drop-In (the only one in Forth Valley) for anyone who feels isolated, needs some confidential help or just some squaddie banter and giggles with a cuppa and light bites. We now regularly FalkirkVetslogohave around 25 to 30 veterans, and a few family members, who attend every week. We also have a Breakfast Club, where former and serving military can enjoy an amazing breakfast and share memories and laughs. Businesses locally pitch in, with generously weekly donations from Asda, Greggs, Malcolm Allan, Thomas Johnson, Marshalls Bakers and Patricks of Camelon. We are also registered as referees for our local food bank and often make up food parcels for our more vulnerable veterans.

We are developing a Garden Club in the walled garden in Callander Park, which very soon will provide a safe, quiet space for relaxation and pottering around planting flowers or vegetables. This is particularly relevant for veterans who have suffered trauma related injuries. We grow and pick vegetables and give out food bags to our more vulnerable veterans.

There’s a social club with occasional free days out for families and a few other events during the year. In August, 19 veterans and their carers went to the Edinburgh Tattoo, thanks to a grant from the Not Forgotten Association. One said it was “the first time he had been out of his house and had gone to an event in 15 years.” A recent Hawaiian night was a great success with more bonding, fun and a break away from their normal lives.

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Welfare and signposting is the more serious part. Setting up support agencies and services, and expecting veterans to go to them, has long been the normal practice. But when individuals have been trained and conditioned to persevere and succeed under all circumstances and despite all adversities, as they are in the Armed Forces, it makes it very difficult for many veterans to accept, or even admit that they need help in the first place! This is why drop-ins like ours are so important. We build up the confidence and self-esteem of the individual to accept the help that is on offer to them. We have helped several veterans with welfare advice, counselling, housing and furniture: we have part of a storage container held at the Royal British Legion Grangemouth where we store furniture and furnishings donated from the public

Want to know more about what we do, or think you could support us? Pop over to our Drop-In, sample a cuppa and a hot filled roll and see for yourself what we do and what we offer.

  • The Drop-In is on Thursdays 11am-2pm at Royal British Legion, Grangemouth.
  • The Breakfast Club is second Sunday and last Saturday of every month, 10am in the Graeme Hotel, Falkirk

Falkirk Veterans is one of a growing number of organisations offering a ‘veterans’ warm welcome’ listed by Age Scotland’s Community Connecting service. To find out what is available in your area, call the Age Scotland Helpline for free on 0800 12 44 222 (Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm).

 

 

Let’s focus on older veterans’ mental health

To mark mental health awareness week The Age Scotland Veterans’ Project highlights the mental health needs of older veterans.


First, a myth to bust.  It’s not common for military veterans to have combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Yes, it happens, and can be debilitating for those living with it.  Yet according to Scotland’s Veterans’ Commissioner ‘the vast majority of those leaving the military do so without severe mental health problems and cope well with the transition to civilian life.’

 

So, no need for concern?  Wrong.  There are almost a quarter of a million veterans in Scotland who have their share of mental health problems common in the wider population, including depression, general anxiety or stress related disorders.  Almost half of those veterans are aged 75 or older, and so are at more risk of experiencing loneliness and isolation as a result of the big life changes ageing can bring.

While mental health awareness is increasing in the military, older veterans will have left service at a time when understanding and support was much more limited.  The Veterans’ Commissioner has also highlighted how the ‘military is historically associated with a culture of heavy drinking’ and that, while much has been done within the military to shift behaviours, ‘alcohol misuse is still significantly higher than amongst the general population.’  And then there is the pride, stoicism and self-reliance instilled by military life: qualities that are advantageous while in service, but potentially disadvantageous when it comes to admitting vulnerability and seeking help in civilian life.

The good news is that there is a wide range of help and support to enable older veterans enjoy the best possible mental health and wellbeing, including Combat Stress and Veterans First Point.  Comradeship, the strong bonds forged in military service, can also support mental wellbeing among veterans.  Many of our partners in Unforgotten Forces make huge contributions to enabling isolated older veterans to enjoy comradeship, including Legion Scotland, Luminate, Poppyscotland, Music in Hospitals & Care, Erskine and Fares4Free.

Older veterans who have mental health problems arising from, or made worse by, their service, may be eligible for compensation from the Ministry of Defence.  Under the War Pension scheme, which applies to conditions related to service before 2005, there is no time limit for claims.  For such conditions veterans are also entitled to priority healthcare, meaning that they should be prioritised over to other patients with the same level of clinical need.  The Armed Services Advice Project can give advice where that may not have been the case.

Pre-order your free copy of The Veterans’ Guide to Later Life in Scotland call 0800 12 44 222 or email publications@agescotland.org.uk.

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Hearing Forces: a new service for Scotland’s Veterans

Action on Hearing Loss Scotland’s new Scotland wide Hearing Forces service is part of the Unforgotten Forces consortium, which offers advice and support to veterans aged 65 or over, their families and carers with hearing loss or tinnitus.


Hearing loss is a common health issue in the armed forces. Many veterans have been exposed to loud noise from gun fire, engines and other machinery, and explosives. The 2014 ‘Lost Voices’ report, collated by the Royal British Legion with support from Action on Hearing Loss, found that veterans under the age of 75 are around three and a half times more likely to experience hearing loss than the general population.

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Veterans William Smith and Elizabeth Mitchell 

Through the Hearing Forces service, we can offer a service regardless of where veterans are in their hearing loss journey. This can include:

• Hearing checks and screening
• hearing aid maintenance and support on using your aids
• advice on useful equipment to improve every day life (e.g. amplified
• telephones, personal listeners)
• support both before and after hearing aids have been fitted.

We are currently delivering the service in a variety of settings across Scotland, (in particular with Unforgotten Forces partner’s venues) including Scottish War Blinded centres, Erskine, Poppy Scotland welfare centres, British Legions, ex service clubs and many more! We can also visit veterans in their own homes if they struggle to get out or we can see them at a local location convenient to them.

We are also currently recruiting for volunteers to help us deliver the service, across the whole of the country – if this is something of interest to you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

To contact us, to make a referral or if you would like us to visit your group or venue, get in touch using the dteails below:

Tel: 07388 227407
Email: hearing.forces@hearingloss.org.uk

Tackling isolation among older veterans

Loneliness and isolation can affect older people generally, but there can be additional challenges tackling it for veterans.  Often they miss social contact with other veterans, who understand their experiences, and with whom they can enjoy the bond of military comradeship.  Doug Anthoney from the Age Scotland Veterans’ Project visited a project in Motherwell that offers veterans just that.


A cold Friday morning and my taxi awaits by Glasgow Queen Street Station.  “Get in,” says the driver, “I got you a coffee.” If that doesn’t sound like an ordinary taxi, that’s because it isn’t.  David Gibson is both co-ordinator and a driver for Fares4Free: a charity that arranges taxis for veterans who are isolated and unable to get to important services, and one of Age Scotland’s partners in the Unforgotten Forces consortium.  Today we’re off to the Veterans’ Café at Kings Church in Motherwell: VC@KC for short.

On the way we pick up Rosie, a nurse who supports veterans with health issues to attend the café for their first few weeks.  Today she’s off-duty however, and going because she’s a veteran herself.  We also collect a veteran who has been isolated and is going to the café for the first time.  As we drive it becomes clear that David’s service goes far beyond transport: he is a listening ear, information source and problem solver for veterans.  “Sometimes veterans wont’ share their problems for a long time,” he says.  “It’s only after you’ve been driving them for months, even years, that you’ll have built up the trust for them to tell you.”

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More than just transport; David offers a transport: listening ear, is a source of helpful information and a problem solver for veterans.

We arrive at the Café, and it’s buzzing.  There are over 40 veterans; some young, but most older.  I talk to one who did national service.  “I feel a bit guilty, not really a veteran like the others,” he says.  Julie Muir, who co-founded the café in 2015, says this is not uncommon.  “We had a man here who had served in military air traffic control; and he didn’t feel entitled.  We persuaded him that of course he was a veteran, and helped him get his service medal.  He and his family were so chuffed.”

Julie and her husband Scott left military service in 2002, but found resettlement hard and support structures inadequate.  “We thought, if we struggled with no debt, no kids, and no health problems, then how much harder will it be for veterans who face such problems.”

The café had a slow start.  “Initially there were more volunteers than veterans,” says Julie.  Attendance really picked up when they learned about veterans’ housing that was being built.  “We got a list of the houses and popped round with hampers for the veterans.  Now we have around 20 regulars, and there are about ten for whom it’s the only thing they go to.”

So why does it work? “We’ve learned that a military-style environment is the last thing you need,” says Julie.  “Some served for a few days, some for 22 years.  No one gets treated any differently, and all feel they belong.  We don’t make distinctions between the services.  Everyone looks out for each other, and there are no cliques.”  It also helps that it’s a café. “For some of the guys, they really don’t want to go near a bar!”

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“No one gets treated any differently, and all feel they belong.  We don’t make distinctions between the services.  Everyone looks out for each other, and there are no cliques.”

The café is a hub for veterans’ services, including Unforgotten Forces partners such as the Armed Services Advice Project and Defence Medical Welfare Service.  It’s also about helping veterans’ families, including in some instances respite time for veterans’ carers.  “We’ve got new funding and plans to expand,” says Julie.  We want to offer more activities such as gardening and cooking.  Many of our veterans feel they’ve got a lot, now they would like to give back.”


To find out what the Veterans’ Project can do for older veterans, and for clubs, groups and services that would like to work with them, visit www.agescotland.org.uk/veterans.

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Supporting veterans with sight loss – a fantastic boost for Paisley

Age Scotland is proud to be part of the Unforgotten Forces consortium – a partnership between 14 leading organisations that deliver a range of new services and enhancements for older veterans living in Scotland. In this guest blog we hear from Scottish War Blinded about their work with older members of the veterans’ community.


Scottish War Blinded are part of the Unforgotten Forces Consortium to raise awareness of the increasing range of support and activities available to older veterans with aged related sight loss, or visual impairment as a result of any cause.

The Hawkhead Centre opened in Paisley in October of this year, and is for military veterans with sight loss – irrespective of the cause of their sight loss. It has become a hive of activity since the doors opened.

Scottish War Blinded Hawkhead Centre

Hawkhead Centre, Paisley

Many of the veterans who have regularly attend the centre’s activities and classes have age related sight loss such as macular degeneration.

The focus of the centre is on supporting veterans to regain confidence and skills they feel they might have lost following their sight loss.

Veterans who find it difficult to travel alone can make use of the free door to door transport, which has become a lifeline for many who live further afield from the centre. Veterans from across the West of Scotland are using these free transport links to come together at the centre on a regular basis.

A great opportunity available at the centre is one-to-one sight loss assessments to support veterans in getting the most out of their remaining sight. The Rehabilitation team work at the centre to provide specialist equipment, and get equipment which is best suited to each individual.

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The charity provides financial assistance so that veterans can take life changing pieces of equipment home, such as magnifiers to read the mail once more or screen readers to listen to the newspaper again.

Activities such as I.T training have opened up a new world for many older veterans in particular, many of whom felt that the online world was not for them. Guidance on assistive technology means many have sent their first email and completed their first online shopping.

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For many older people struggling with sight loss, falls have become an issue. The strength and fitness classes at the centre are a social way to gain better balance and improve mobility.

Cooking and baking sessions are a way to pick up old skills and learn new recipes, using specially adapted equipment which supports people with sight loss to cook safely and with more ease. Such equipment which enables veterans to be more independent at home is available following individual assessment.

The centre has proven to be a life affirming part of older people’s lives in a short space of time.

Scottish War Blinded welcomes new referrals to the new centre in Paisley, or to the Linburn centre in West Lothian. The organisation also provide an outreach service which supports people in their homes all over Scotland.

If you would like to refer a veteran with sight loss call 0800 035 6409 – it doesn’t matter the cause of their sight loss, Scottish War Blinded are for any veteran with sight loss.

Introducing our man in the North: Age Scotland’s Veteran’s Project

This autumn Steve Henderson joined Age Scotland as dedicated Community Development Officer for the charity’s new Veterans’ Project with a peripatetic remit spanning the north of Scotland.  We asked Steve, a veteran himself, about his background and aspirations for the project.


Steve joined the Army (Royal Regiment of Artillery) in 1983, with which he served as both soldier and officer until 2006.  He then moved with his family to Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates where he worked on a ten-year military training management implementation programme.  After returning to UK early 2015, he eventually settled back home in Scotland and his career took a new direction with Dementia Friendly Communities (DFC) Helmsdale. IMG_0073 (2).JPG

The Age Scotland Veterans’ Project attracted him because “following a successful military career I saw it as an opportunity to give something back to a community of veterans who have served before me.”   The need he anticipates among older members of the veterans’ community include loneliness and isolation.  “This is an issue in general, but it can be exacerbated by being a veteran,” he says.  “Veterans tend to speak a different language; they have their own ‘craic.’  There are some things they won’t feel comfortable speaking about in a civilian environment, but will talk to other veterans about.

“There can also be a culture of self-reliance that means you don’t go to the doctor unless your arm is falling off. Some veterans will only ask for help when they’ve reached crisis point.”

Sensory impairment is another problem.  “Ear protection for the military didn’t come in until late 1990s,” says Steve.  His own hearing has been affected by proximity to rocket launches.

Perhaps the biggest issue however is that many people who are entitled to additional help and support inadvertently miss out.  “Lots of individuals don’t class themselves as a veteran, particularly those who did national service.  We want to make sure that older veterans can benefit from all the help and support available via Age Scotland and from our Unforgotten Forces partner organisations.

Steve has been delighted with the response so far to the project at recent Age Scotland network meetings and in meetings with individual groups.  “People think it is money well spent: not least the fact that Aged Veterans’ Fund funding comes ultimately from LIBOR banking fines.”  Steve’s next steps are to engage with more groups, both among Age Scotland’s membership and within the veterans’ community.  “One of the things I’m keen to do is introduce these groups to each other, so that more veterans can benefit from all that’s on offer from the charity’s members,” says Steve.  “I will also be available to enable people to access the information and advice they need, and to deliver training where applicable.”

632x305_veterans_projectIf you are part of a community group in the North or North East of Scotland and would like to make contact with Steve, you can call him on 07808 024801 or email steve.henderson@agescotland.org.uk.   Visit www.agescotland.org.uk/veterans