We must stand with Commonwealth veterans facing the Tory hostile environment

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The authors of this article have all served in our nation’s military. Between us, we have decades of service and we all hold strong Labour values. We’ve worked with fellow service personnel from across the Commonwealth – soldiers, sailors and airmen that the British military simply couldn’t do without. We’re speaking up in support of the Commonwealth veterans who have been failed by the Conservative government and who now face thousands of pounds in legal costs just to make the case that their years of service deserve a lot more than lip service from ministers.

Former infantry soldier and trade unionist David McMullen is leading the campaign to ‘Help the Commonwealth Veterans 8’. He has set up a CrowdJustice site to support the former soldiers stand up to the Ministry of Defence, Home Office and the hostile environment towards those who have put their lives on the line for this country.

The case being brought concerns Commonwealth veterans who were not properly advised on their discharge from the Forces. These former service personnel left for civvie street facing costs of over £2,000 per family member to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain. One Fijian veteran was hours from deportation at an immigration removal centre when an emergency grant of Indefinite Leave was given.

When applying for Indefinite Leave, there is no waiver for former military service, meaning a family could be looking at costs of around £10,000 just to apply. Many opt for periodic applications for further leave, but this is hardly any cheaper at around £1,000 per application every two and a half years. This is in addition to a £1,000 healthcare surcharge per person.

The case of Army veteran Taitusi Ratucaucau hit the headlines in May when he faced nearly £30,000 for medical costs for life-saving emergency brain surgery. Despite serving in the Army for 11 years, he was classed as ineligible for NHS treatment. He also faces costs of £10,000 for himself and his family to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK. He is not alone, though. Along with around 500 veterans a year from across the Commonwealth, the hostile environment now seems to extend to those who have served diligently and loyally in a British uniform and risked their lives in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The government completely rejected the Commonwealth soldiers’ petition when their case was made earlier this year, and they have form for stringing out cases to exhaust the claimants. As we wait for the Armed Forces Covenant to become worth more than the paper it’s written on, there is a new threat to veterans’ rights – part two of the new overseas operations bill is cutting the allotted time to claim for injuries incurred in service.

A change to the immigration rules for veterans and their immediate family would have been a tangible gesture of gratitude to the brave Fijian, and other Commonwealth nations’ men and women who served in our armed forces. We demand that our government treat veterans with the honour and respect they deserve. Leaving them in bureaucratic limbo for years is a national disgrace that is both shameful and immoral.

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