A sudden rise in veteran suicides does not equate to an “epidemic”, but “one is too many”, the defence minister has told MPs.
Johnny Mercer said the Government has “not acted fast enough” and more needs to be done to understand how best to support servicemen and women.
He said the Office of Veterans’ Affairs will now be funding a study to better grasp the situation and to gather data to inform “evidence-based” policy.
In a statement, the Minister for Defence People and Veterans told MPs: “I am aware that we are currently experiencing a higher instance of suicide in a cohort who served at a specific time in Afghanistan.
“Some people want to make suicide about numbers but suicide is not a number.
“One is too many and in my view, any suicide is an individual tragedy, yes, for that person, their family, of course, but also the military as an institution.
“I must, however, challenge a false narrative that veteran suicide is an epidemic or that professional clinical services are not there…they are.”
Mr Mercer said the new Office for Veterans, which he oversees, is funding the next stage of a long-term study into 30,000 veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, with a report due later this year.
He said: “I am expanding this study so that it provides, for the first time, a near real-time surveillance capability, ensuring we can respond quickly to any new cluster of events.
“Having shared those battlefields with you, I have staked my personal reputation on it.”
However, Mr Mercer did say suicide rates are still lower among veterans than the general population and deaths from suicide among veterans are lower today than in the 1990s.
Labour’s shadow defence minister Stephen Morgan said more needs to be done to tackle veteran suicides and urged the Government to spend more on mental health services for Armed Forces personnel and veterans.
In response, Mr Mercer said the Government was spending £200 million on mental health support for veterans over the next 10 years and suggested compulsory GP check-ups might be an option.