Veteran voices: how listening to lived experience is helping us bring more people into treatment

Chris Barnes is our National Service User Lead. He explains how listening to the voices of people with lived experience has helped us encourage more armed forces veterans into support from our services. 

Across Change Grow Live’s services, we are continuing to support an increasing number of veterans who have been affected by their service and the return to civilian life, and who are struggling with alcohol or drugs. We know that veterans affected by substance misuse generally don’t know about the support that is available to them, and are often unable to reach out and seek help.   

Since signing the Armed Forces Covenant in 2021, we have been committed to making sure that veterans can access support that understands their needs – from launching a working group co-produced by veterans, to developing new referral pathways into treatment with the NHS. Now, we are extremely pleased to be working with Tom Harrison House – the UK’s only residential rehabilitation service specifically for people who have served in the armed forces.  

Tom Harrison House will now be a part of Change Grow Live’s national framework for inpatient detoxification and residential rehabilitation. Residential detox and rehabilitation services can play a life-changing part in people’s drug or alcohol treatment journey, and our national framework ensures the people who use our services have access to the highest quality of care. 

Tom Harrison House was founded by Paula Gunn, whose grandfather was Tom Harrison, a decorated veteran of the Royal Navy. Both Paula and her grandfather have been passionate advocates for supporting veterans with substance misuse, and Tom Harrison House makes this support a reality with a programme specially tailored to their needs. The focus of Tom Harrison House is on helping veterans with the loss of social support, connection, and camaraderie they can experience when leaving the armed forces. The support they receive at Tom Harrison House is designed to provide them with an experience they can relate to, while helping them rediscover their purpose and meaning. Overall, it provides a space that understands and accommodates the unique lived experience of the residents who stay there. 

Partnerships such as this, as well as the development of specialist pathways, can play a crucial role in breaking down barriers to treatment and ensuring more people get the right support for them. There is already so much support out there for veterans – it is up to us to ensure they know that these services exist, and that they are able to access them as they need to. 

Supported by Liverpool John Moore’s university, we plan to undertake and publish research that will help the entire sector better understand the barriers faced by veterans when engaging with services. We have already shared insights with policy makers and the Royal British Legion, and will continue to do so in the future. We’ve worked closely with veterans who use our services to coproduce accredited training that raises awareness of their specific support needs and the services available to them.  

Through all of this, our work has been informed and driven by the voices of people with lived experience. Veterans who access our services have been a vital co-production partner, and our decision to sign the Armed Forces Covenant was based on their feedback. As a result of developments such as these, we’ve seen a 20% increase in veterans using our services in the last 12 months. 

Improving treatment outcomes, reducing drug related harm and death and increasing the number of people in treatment are at the heart of the UK’s 10-year drug strategy. The most effective way we can achieve this as a sector is to listen and respond to the voices of those affected by drug and alcohol use.   

If any providers of support for veterans would like to work with us, we welcome collaboration and would be delighted to hear from you. If you’d like to find out more, please contact our veterans support working group: [email protected]