AFF receives regular enquiries from families where the serving person is on recovery duty. Some are unaware of the support that’s available or the process that the soldier has to follow. Karen Ross, AFF Health & Additional Needs Specialist, spoke to one family about their experiences…
*Melanie’s husband was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2021. Whilst he was waiting for support from one of the military’s departments of community mental health (DCMH), he was medically downgraded and prescribed medication, but initially continued to work. However, a few months later he was put on the WISMIS (wounded injured sick management information system) list and, as Melanie describes, “he then remained at home with very little contact with the outside world. I cared for him the best I could but the process had implications on my physical and mental health too.”
Family members who contact AFF with caring responsibilities similar to Melanie’s often speak of the lack of support they receive and how their spouse’s health can impact on their own wellbeing.
Melanie told us that her daughter’s school offered emotional literacy support assistant sessions and said that her husband received therapy sessions at DCMH once a week. “During this time I wasn’t really offered support, although the nurse did call me to let me know how his sessions were going,” she says. “On one occasion they sent links about post-traumatic stress disorder for me to read.”
Often families aren’t aware of the treatment plan as there are issues with patient confidentiality. Melanie says: “I sent several queries and was later invited to a session with the psychiatrist when the discussion had turned to medical discharge. If I did call I had to have my husband’s permission first before they told me.”
Due to his busy schedule, the assigned PRO (personnel recovery officer) didn’t always carry out the fortnightly check-ins and Melanie wasn’t given his details. She felt that her husband’s recovery pathway wasn’t well explained. She adds: “There were a huge amount of unknowns and we relied on serving friends in welfare to help us. When you are struggling with your mental health, not knowing is not a good place to be in.”
Her husband was medically discharged this year. “He has now left the army and we are not receiving any support. We are still struggling to secure housing. It would be great if there was a hub which was a one-stop-shop for all queries and support.
“Tedworth House, for example, could be used for art courses, sporting events and relaxing spaces/respite for families. Just because our spouse is receiving treatment doesn’t mean the world stops spinning and we still have to carry on with everyday life, children, work, household tasks etc. Having nice things to look forward to or focus on would have really helped in what’s felt like a very lonely and dark time.” *Name has been changed.
AGAI 99, the army policy covering personnel on recovery duty, was updated in January – the title was changed to ‘Command and Care of Serving Personnel on Recovery Duty’. The term wounded, injured and sick (WIS) was also changed to personnel on recovery duty (PRD).
HOW IT WORKS…
The recovery pathway follows the process from injury and/or diagnosis to return to work, or if that’s not possible, to medical discharge or retirement.
- The clinical chain of command (e.g. medical officers) and parent unit have initial responsibility to start the recovery journey of any serving person declared on ‘recovery duty’ in accordance with AGAI 99.
- If the injury, illness or condition is going to last for longer than 14 days they are entered onto WISMIS by their chain of command.
- A trained recovery officer is allocated and a face-to-face visit should take place by day 21. Healthcare is provided by both Defence Medical Services (DMS) and the NHS.
- They will be assessed regularly through a formal review with their chain of command every 28 days. Each serving person will be given an individual recovery plan (IRP).
- If the soldier needs more than 28 days to recover, they will be graded temporarily non-effective (TNE) and after this, but by day 70, units must apply to the Army Recovery Capability Assignment Board for consideration of an assignment to the closest Personnel Recovery Unit (PRU). If selected, they will be reassigned to a PRU with a dedicated PRO for recovery support
A mixture of mandatory and vocational activities are available – delivered both face-to-face and virtually depending on the PRD’s clinical needs. There is a wide ranging Vocational Activities Programme which includes tasks and skills designed to engage the mind, body and spirit to help accelerate their recovery. Personnel don’t have to be assigned to a PRU to access any of these courses and some include family participation.
MEETING YOUR NEEDS
Karen spoke to WO2 Calum Dignan about his role as a PRO. He explains: “Our main aim is the recovery of service personnel on PRD, and it’s recognised that the family are a critical component of this.”
The PRO does a handover/takeover with the soldier’s parent unit and then arranges an initial interview and home visit. “In my opinion it’s always better if the spouse or partner can be present too,” says Calum. “Subsequent visits will then be arranged with a minimum of 14 days between each.”
At the initial visit, all the administration is completed, including getting the serving person’s consent for any discussion with a family member of their medical or welfare needs. “If the service person is under a PRU, the PRU becomes their welfare support. They are given the PRO’s contact details and also informed that there is 24-hour support available via an out-of-hours phone service,” adds Calum.
One of the other main objectives of the unit or PRU recovery officer is to support the service person’s road to recovery. They can provide transport for medical appointments or ensure families can claim back the correct allowances.
Calum was asked what procedures are in place for those soldiers or family members who aren’t happy about the care or support they receive. He says: “The PRUs have senior case managers who link into the chain of command and you are able to raise any issues with them. There is also the opportunity to give feedback at the end of their recovery journey.” The secondary role of a PRU is also to support and advise units managing their own PRD in recovery.
“If transitioning, once the family knows where they are going to live, the service person could be either given a ‘Unit Assist’ by a PRU or another unit closer to their new home for continuity of recovery support. They can still remain in contact with their current unit,” explains Calum.
“The PROs may continue to support all service personnel for up to three months after they leave*. Where there are ongoing welfare needs post discharge, PRD and their families can be referred to Veterans UK via gov.uk if they continue to struggle or have ongoing family needs that require support.”
For a full list of organisations that may be able to support you, see Road to recovery – useful links.
*A PRU PRO will only do this where it is known that a veteran is struggling to adjust. The WISMIS record is closed on the last day of service, so the PRO has no official support role post discharge. However, they can support the veteran to refer themselves to Veterans UK (if they haven’t done so already) or signpost to other regimental or wider charitable organisations for ongoing support.