New report finds non-UK veterans face unique challenges

A report published by RAND Europe and commissioned by the Office for Veterans’ Affairs (OVA) shows that non-UK veterans face distinct challenges both during and after their service.

Soldier in woodland during Exercise Aurora 23, photo by Petty Officer Joel Rouse/UK MOD © Crown 2022

Photo by Petty Officer Joel Rouse/UK MOD © Crown 2022

The UK Armed Forces have an established history of recruiting non-native citizens. This includes people from the British Commonwealth and Ireland, as well as Nepalese nationals. To understand their experiences, researchers from RAND Europe spoke to non-UK veterans of 11 different nationalities who had served in the British Army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force. The Office for Veterans’ Affairs will use the recommendations and insight gained from this research to develop future policies that provide specific support to non-UK veterans.

All participants expressed gratitude for being able to serve in the UK Armed Forces. They highlighted that their service allowed them to experience new places and cultures, develop lasting friendships, and gain skills which were useful during their military career and post-service life.

However, the study also identified unique challenges and complexities which non-UK personnel encounter when transitioning from military to civilian life. For many participants, this was due to the demands of having to navigate unfamiliar organisational processes and socio-cultural environments. They also noted a lack of transparency around the policies and guidelines related to non-UK service. Although many participants got on well with British personnel and actively integrated into the Armed Forces, several recalled the challenges of adapting to military culture and later feeling uncertainty about their transition from service life.

The study was commissioned and funded by the OVA, who in 2022 committed to further understand and support non-UK veterans in The Veterans Strategy Action Plan 2022-2024. The report, prepared by RAND Europe, delivers on the OVA’s commitment.

One Nepalese participant, who left the British Army in the 2010s, said, “I wasn’t aware of the system and society outside of the barracks, so there’s a disadvantage there. I didn’t know how the bus system or social system worked. I didn’t concentrate on anything other than the Army when I was in the Army.”

Non-UK veterans experience these additional challenges on top of those felt by veterans generally, a dynamic described in the report as a ‘double whammy’. The research confirmed that informal social networks are important mechanisms for non-UK veterans in navigating such difficulties. Members of this community may be more likely to engage with peer-to-peer or community-based assistance than formal support services.

Findings indicated that many non-UK veterans feel that their service and support needs are often poorly understood by government bodies and society at large. A Fijian participant said, “Treating us like UK soldiers doesn’t work. I believe it has been addressed since, but they need to understand that each Commonwealth country is different.” This perceived lack of awareness can result in concrete challenges, such as conflicting information being given about issues affecting non-UK service. It can also make veterans doubt the value of their own service.

Earlier this year the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Johnny Mercer, visited Australia and Fiji to further understand the experiences of non-UK veterans, and understand the service provision in their local area. He said, “This Government is committed to supporting those who have served this country. That applies to all veterans.

"Non-UK veterans are, and always will be, an important and valued part of the UK Armed Forces Community. We have a duty to support these individuals and their families in their military-to-civilian transition and ensure they thrive in their post service life.”

Linda Slapakova, research leader at RAND Europe, said, “Our research clearly shows that the positions and experiences of non-UK veterans are quite different from those of native UK veterans. I would like to thank everyone who took part by sharing their experiences with us. It appears that there are opportunities to provide better support to this group, using this new evidence to shape policy.”

Read the report