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Service families: welfare and support

Everyday family life has its up and downs. Life for members of an armed forces family, whether they're regulars, reservists, or veterans, or their spouses, partners or children, can have additional worries.

These include:

  • stress around deployment
  • extended and repeated periods of separation from spouses and partners
  • social isolation from family and friends
  • additional and sudden caring responsibilities

The Armed Forces Covenant says that the whole nation has a moral obligation to the armed forces community and sets out how they should expect to be treated.

The Covenant aims to remove disadvantage, to ensure that the whole armed forces community, including their families, receive the same outcomes as the civilian community. A useful point of contact for covenant issues are the service family federations (Naval Families Federation, Army Families Federation and Royal Air Force Families Federation).

The majority of families of serving personnel, reservists and veterans access and receive their healthcare through the NHS in exactly the same way as the rest of the population.

In specific circumstances (for example, during posting overseas), some families may receive their primary care services from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) through Defence Primary Healthcare (DPHC) medical centres.

The availability of health and other support services for armed forces families serving overseas can vary between locations.

The MoD has a robust process in place for assessing the support available to family members before an overseas move is confirmed.

This ensures that all essential services are available, whether that be health or education, and that the move to the new location is as smooth as possible.

Additional needs

Service personnel are required to inform their chain of command if they have a family member with additional needs or a disability.

Service families are encouraged to register an additional need or a disability with the chain of command through the single service policies. For the army, this is mandatory.

Service children who have special educational needs (SEN) should be registered with the Children's Education Advisory Service (CEAS), who can provide advice and support to parents when they move.

Prior to a child with SEN moving overseas, an MoD Assessment of Supportability Overseas (MASO) will be carried out to ensure that essential health, education and social care services are available.

Armed forces families accessing services within the UK and frequently moving due to postings are responsible for informing their GP, health visitor, dentist, school nurses and other services of their individual circumstances.

Proactively informing these services before a move will ensure medical records are transferred and enable the continuity of any care and support that family members may receive.

The Armed Forces Covenant states that family members should retain their relative position on any NHS waiting list if moving location due to the service person postings.

Welfare organisations

There are a number of organisations, in addition to NHS services, armed forces families can go to to get the advice and support they may sometimes need.

The Navy, Army and RAF all have their own welfare support organisation and information services.

There are other organisations and charities that may be able to offer assistance and provide additional welfare services. Some are listed below.

Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA)

The SSAFA is the national charity supporting service personnel, veterans and their families. SSAFA offers support to the community, whether at home, overseas or in an operational environment.

Families federations

The 3 Service Families Federations (Naval Families Federation, Army Families Federation and Royal Air Force Families Federation) are the independent voices of service families.

Each offers independent and confidential advice on a range of issues and works to improve the quality of life for service families.

They regularly engage with the chain of command, local authorities and government to represent the views of armed forces families.

Each of the 3 services has its own Welfare Support and Information Service Teams and Defence Medical Welfare Service (DMWS).

Defence Medical Welfare Service (DMWS)

The DMWS is a registered charity that works for the MoD and with other charities to provide practical and emotional support to military personnel, their families and other entitled civilians when they're in hospital, rehabilitation or recovery centres.

Page last reviewed: 14 June 2018
Next review due: 14 June 2021