As the SCC and the MoD get stuck into negotiations as to the form of Armed Forces Ombudsman, we should celebrate that at least the argument as to the need for change has been won. But what arrangements will be made for wounded, injured and sick (WIS) personnel in the new style procedures to handle Service Complaints (SC)?
Second, most institutional complaints systems aim to resolve complaints at the lowest level. This often brings with it a propensity to dismiss complaints quickly without a full investigation in order to test the resolve of the complainant. This disadvantages the WIS complainant who has struggled in the first instance and may well be tempted to give up with little discouragement. Energies and resources must be carefully applied, especially where the complainant is dealing with serious medical conditions.
“Alex was in his twenties when he and some of his mates presented with the same symptoms, which turned out to be serious and life threatening. It later emerged that they had been exposed over a long period to hazardous chemicals. Alex nearly died but his family, with the help of the Red Cross took action that most probably saved his life. However, he complaint Alex submitted was immediately dismissed, making the family question whether a proper investigation had in fact even taken place. They were in no condition to pursue the matter.”
Third, staying the course of a complaint is a test in itself that WIS personnel are only able to pass at the expense of their health. The system is so overloaded and under resourced it can take an age for a complaint to even begin to be investigated, Coupled with this is the posting/redundancy cycle, which often sees witnesses, Assisting Officers, Deciding Officers and other key players leave. While on the one hand people are told, "put it behind you, move on", on the other they are invited to rip the plaster off again and expose old wounds. Keeping everyone in the picture places not unsubstantial emotional pressure on the WIS complainant, because ultimately the complainant is the only one who is capable of telling his/her story.
“My husband submitted his complaint in four years ago. It’s still waiting to be investigated! To be honest, I don’t expect anything to come of it; it’s been so long and they can’t even find half the people they need to talk to anymore. He can’t get any ‘closure’ and will never be able to address his mental health problems until this has been sorted out”
The system is overwhelmed, and the hurdles presented to WIS personnel are just too high. When the MoD and the SCC come to the table, I sincerely hope they will tailor the system to accommodate this particular group of individuals, or else the real victim becomes one of natural justice. And these people deserve so much better.