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Rum and khaki: the Alcohol Recovery Project

September 27th 2009

It is often said that there is a fine line between heavy drinking and alcohol dependency. A set of circumstances or twist of fate can be all that is needed for some to cross that line and the struggle begins. Few would deny that a drinking culture in the armed forces is prevalent, but how surprised, shocked or just downright envious would you be to know that in some messes a pint during half 'happy hour' is a mere 40 pence? Rumour has it that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) are currently paper-pushing an initiative to introduce a more responsible attitude to drinking in the services and more support when a problem has been identified. But this doesn't seem to extend to ex-service personnel who have been discharged with little or no resettlement support, some of whom find themselves on the streets and in the grip of a drink dependency. The Ex-Service Action Group's (ESAG) report in 1997 suggested that of London based ex-service rough sleepers, a staggering 50 per cent suffered alcohol problems, and a St Mungo's survey carried out in 2004 found that 69 per cent of rough sleepers over the age of 50 who were ex-forces had an alcohol problem. Special help is at hand though, through The Alcohol Recovery Project (ARP) in London. Set up in the 1960s to support people with drink problems in securing accommodation, they continue to provide floating support in the London area, particularly with sustaining tenancies for their clients. A spokesperson for ARP described to us the type of support the organisation offers: "ARP offer clients support in accessing detox and rehab programmes, dealing with mental health issues, counselling services, education and employment opportunities and in developing life skills. We also provide housing and benefits advice and liaise with other agencies to access charitable funding for our clients." As a result of ESAG's findings, the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation approached ARP to discuss extending their services to support ex-service personnel. Since 1999, ARP have sought to close this gap in provision by offering specialist resettlement support to the ex-service community. The Ex-Service Resettlement Team consists of three workers dedicated to supporting accommodated ex-service personnel and rough sleepers. There is also a mental health specialist, a post funded by the British Legion. Working in partnership with hospitals, day centres, hostels and ex-service organisations, they address a complexity of needs and help ex-service personnel maintain a less chaotic lifestyle. ARP agreed with the statistics found: "Yes, we do think alcohol dependency is more prevalent in ex-service clients. Although in the younger population there is starting to be a trend with drug dependency." They went on to explain the referral process: "The process is the same for our clients who are rough sleepers and those who are housed. We assist them in completing a referral form and verify their service details. The only difference is that we would of course immediately try to find appropriate accommodation for those who needed it." Each team member has about 30 cases at any one time and although their floating support is London based, they deal with queries from all over the country. Those who contact the Ex-Service Resettlement Team will be supported, but the intervention work is designed to give the person ownership over the decision-making process, as they told us: "We carry out a needs assessment, a risk assessment and a support plan to agree the areas of support that are needed, how the client will meet these and agree realistic timescales." ARP also recognises that some of their ex-service clients are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as other mental health issues. Leaving service life can be traumatic for many. Isolation and difficulty in adjusting can spark a chain of events that take a downward spiral. Resettlement packages that fail to meet the needs of those making this transition are often the cause and when one has been embroiled in a drinking culture for some time, we shouldn't be surprised at the statistics. But we should be concerned. A pint for less than a can of coke? I'll just have a half, thanks! ARP has branches across London, and can be contacted at: 68 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6DF; 020 7403 3369.

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