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A Nation Expects – The Military Covenant

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The covenant, dating back some 400 years, recognises the unique relationship the nation has with its service personnel.  Until now, this has been no more than a gentleman's agreement.

The covenant was codified in 2000:

Soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices - including the ultimate sacrifice - in the service of the Nation.  In putting the needs of the Nation and the Army before their own, they forego some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces.  In return, British soldiers must always be able to expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as individuals, and that they (and their families) will be sustained and rewarded by commensurate terms and conditions of service.

In the same way the unique nature of military land operations means that the Army differs from all other institutions, and must be sustained and provided for accordingly by the Nation.   This mutual obligation forms the Military Covenant between the Nation, the Army and each individual soldier; an unbreakable common bond of identity, loyalty and responsibility which has sustained the Army throughout its history.

Reference to the Army is known also to include the RAF, Royal Navy and Reserve Forces.

Our involvement in the middle east these last 20 years or so, and the consequent loss of life (365 to date in Afghanistan) and injuries suffered by those involved in the fighting, has caused the Government to finally bow to the intense pressure and scrutiny it has faced from service charities, former Defence chiefs and the public, by agreeing to enshrine, in law, those promises. 

The covenant, which will form part of the Armed Forces Bill, will create a legal framework within which society shall be required to demonstrate much more than a moral obligation to those injured in the service of their country.  It shall for the first time instill a local and national system of healthcare, education, housing and after service support for anyone who has served their country, in whatever capacity.

The covenant also provides a legal framework, previously denied, which shall enable a soldier to seek recourse when their statutory rights are denied.  Many right-wing observers say that this has opened the door for lawyers to encourage litigation on each and every occasion when such legal rights are abused.  This provides cause for debate yet is it not the case that a lawyer, like me, is called upon only as a last resort when the law is compromised? Truth be told, this is bound to occur but it ought not to detract from the purpose of bringing this law to fruition. 

Some say that soldiers should enjoy no more ‘special’ privileges than, say, nurses, or policeman, or perhaps teachers. Speak to any of our men and women on the ground in Afghanistan right now.  Not one wishes to be singled out for special treatment.  They desire nothing more than a simple recognition that the sacrifices they have made are dutifully recognised by their neighbours.  They don’t ask to be treated differently.  They have only the expectation that by making an oath to Queen and country, it shall be reciprocated, should they be in need of our support.

There is likely to be a large financial burden placed upon us as a nation but let us for one brief moment look at the statistics.  At the last count we had, excluding reserve and TA forces, 225,000 regular soldiers, sailors and airman.   That equates to 0.003% of a UK population of, give or take, 62million!  You can further reduce that percentage because only a small number will likely seek the backing that this new law shall grant. Therefore to suggest that we can ill afford to implement these rights in full and to follow it through in years to come, strikes me as extremely disingenuous.

Charities such as Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion have brought about a tremendous sea change in the country's perception of what becomes of our injured servicemen after they have been discharged.  The former has, for example, raised in less than 4 years, £100million, a huge sum of money which, in addition to many dozens of fabulous initiatives, is to be used to fund the creation of five centers of rehabilitation and welfare excellence around the UK for our injured men and women.  Yet it begs the question as to why our men and women should be reliant upon, dare I say it, charity? 

I challenge you to deny each of them, once they retire from active duty, a safe and comfortable place to live, a good education for them and their children, access to the very best health care and, above all else, our respect, gratitude and admiration.

Grant J Evatt

Senior solicitor - Personal Injury team

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