War Pensions Committees Briefing February2006
Wounded ex-Servicemen had no Disability Pensions until the Government set up a provision in 1921, after the public outcry regarding destitute old Soldiers from the 1914-18 War. Later there were dedicated “Pensions Hospitals”. For many years, the War Pensions Agency in Norcross, under the Social Security Act, was allied to the Department of Work & Pensions and administered these pensions. After changing its name to “Veterans Agency”, and after a brief period of consultation, it was subsumed into the Department of Defence two years ago. However, in the main the same Civil Servants are in charge and so continuity has not been lost. You will appreciate the significance of the new name! The Agency now has charge of Veterans’ affairs, of all those who have served, not simply disabled War Pensioners. There is no new money so far, for proper exercise of this extra responsibility, but we will keep pressing the Minister for Veterans through our Committees!
The purpose of a War Pension is to bridge the gap between disabled status and gainful employment. War Pension is a misnomer, of course. You can very well be eligible, due to a wound or a medical (including psychological) condition, consequent upon service in our Armed Forces, Merchant Navy or even Civil Defence, no matter how brief your service, in war or in peace! Allowances vary with degree of disablement.
War Pensions Committees
In recent times, War Pensions Committees (WPC) have been constituted for three-year periods to play a part in administering this service.
Roles of WPCs are:
- To act as a medium for local consultation by Ministers, DWP & VA on issues affecting War Pensioners and War Widows.
- To raise awareness of the WP scheme and the WP Welfare Service in the Committee’s area.
- To support and monitor the work of VA & WPWS.
- To assist individuals with any complaint about the Schemes, by both sitting on Panels to elicit fact or to represent an individual, when appropriate.
Members are drawn from many ex-Service Charities, including War Widows and, in our case, Polish Forces. Some of the members are themselves War Pensioners. My own involvement began when I was formally appointed a Medical member by the Secretary of State some 12 years ago to join the Chilterns WPC, which served four Counties. It will not surprise you to know we now have fewer (only 15) Committees serving the British Isles; our own area, South East England, runs from Oxford south to the Isle of Wight (inclusive) and nearly everything to the east, excepting Greater London. This WPC, of which I am Vice-Chairman, has 30,000 pensioners in benefit. Our personal contact with individual pensioners is necessarily limited, due to time and space. Our Meetings occur some four times a year in London.
Representative Chairmen of WPCs serve on the Central Advisory Committee, which is attended by the Minister for Veterans, thus achieving an avenue to the highest level for each WPC. Most disabled ex-Service people can be well provided for. Minorities, such as the Chelsea Pensioners, are well known. Less commonly known are the ex-Service Charities, some for specific Regiments/Corps and some for wider relief, (Army Benevolent Fund, SSAFA/Forces Help, The Royal British Legion for example, and other Royal Naval, Army and RAF Charities).
Using this valuable link to Government, WPC members can collect evidence of any problems within their areas, consult locally and pass on their recommendations to the Minister.
We lost our Pensions Hospitals some 40 years ago. As a sop, War Pensioners became entitled thereafter to Priority Treatment in NHS facilities for their Accepted Disability – but this is not as well known in NHS as it deserves to be! A more recent and fundamental change is that since 6th April 2005, Service people became eligible for “Armed Service Compensation” instead of War Pensions, the former scheme ceasing. The great difference is that a new “Pensioner” receives one lump sum, after due assessment by medical and other officials – and not a regular income. From this one-off payment he has to find all his future treatments, aftercare and rehabilitation. Please remember the high proportion of mentally ill casualties arising from current Service, especially Alcohol related problems. It is but a small stretch of your imagination to adapt the television advertisements to this situation; let a specialist Company assist you in managing your Lump sum payment – for a fee! Or go it alone and perhaps drink all the money, leaving you a destitute former soldier, partly treated, discharged from Service and probably socially isolated. Cardboard City just around the corner? Existing Charities will have to stand by, in case the predicted shortfall in provision comes about! Members of our WPC are most concerned at this change. We bear in mind that Medical Services for our Forces in the field are severely stretched, that the Forces in UK are left without standing Military Hospitals and our disabled veterans perforce rely upon civilian (NHS) facilities, numbers of concerns arise!
WPCs and the paid War Pensions Welfare Service continue to care for Service Pensioners, no matter how conditions change. They will see evidence of good and poor results of legislation. WPC Chairmen can inform the Minister of the performance of the Veterans Agency and WPWS within their areas. It is likely that even more charitable funds and services will be needed in the future, for the disabled Veterans of continuing wars, and for long after the last war has ended. Please keep Service Charities in mind when you make your own dispositions and please let me know of any veteran’s problem getting “stuck”, in case I can think of a new avenue to be tried.
Please ask for clarification.