The AFCS guidance on the GOV.UK website states that:
While technically this is true, unfortunately there are a few problems with this statement, and I disagree with it.
Veterans Welfare Service (VWS)
The Veterans Welfare Service (VWS) is part of Veterans UK and the MoD. The Scheme is designed to be impartial and unbiased, so there should be no reason to doubt the help from VWS. In my experience, however, I have either had bad advice or not been able to contact them at all.
The reason I can’t say for certain that I got bad advice from them is that I spoke to a number of people when I first found out about the AFCS. I thought I had never heard of the Scheme. I’ll give more detail of my own experience elsewhere on this site, but to keep to the point, I think I called Veterans UK and / or VWS and probably a charity. I was told, most likely by VWS, that my claim would be outside the 3 year time limit for claiming.
This was the first time during my AFCS application that my knowledge as a solicitor was useful, as I knew time limits for injuries weren't set in stone. I was in rag order mentally though, and so I called a charity, and was recommended to speak to a solicitor due to the complexity of my case.
Other charitable organisations
This is one of the times I get a bit angry about how the AFCS is administered.
For MoD to have the gall to encourage people to draw on charitable resources to work out these claims, that are supposed to be done impartially by Veterans UK, makes me very annoyed.
In week 1 of my military training I was told the two roles of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces were to protect the UK’s people, territories, values and interests, and to raise money for charity.
Also, because military charities only have so much capacity to help, they can’t provide the investigative time to your claim that a lawyer could. They may have to instruct a lawyer anyway to help with complex cases. Some lawyers may do this for the charity for free, but they won’t be able to do that for everyone, and they may still come in at the last minute, rather than getting to know you and your claim throughout the process.
Simply put, the GOV.UK website actively encourages you to get advice from charitable organisations. That advice is needed because Veterans UK have a reputation, based on real examples, of incompetent and erroneous claims handling and outcomes when handling AFCS claims. Veterans UK are willingly costing charities money because they are crap at running the AFCS. That’s not OK.
As I mentioned on the home page, I was a lawyer after I left the RAF. I trained to be a solicitor and despite also then training in Corporate Law and Family Law, I qualified into the Healthcare Law sector. I worked for a law firm that was on the panel of firms used by the NHS Litigation Authority, which became NHS Resolution. This is the section of the NHS that deals with clinical negligence cases brought against the NHS. So I helped prepare defences to the cases that were not clear cut and needed defending, and I helped settle cases fairly where admissions of negligence were made by the NHS. In the page on this site “What is AFCS” I explained the similarities between negligence and the Scheme.
So aside from the specific rules of the AFCS, like how to apply and how to fill in the form, I should have been about as well prepared as anyone could be to do my own application.
I still used a solicitor.
It is perfectly possible to make the claim yourself. The harder part comes when challenging Veterans UK’s first decision. The need to challenge isn’t certain, but I believe it is highly likely, due to lack of understanding of the law by Veterans UK, and a lack of understanding of mental health conditions. I’ll go a bit deeper into Veterans UK on another page of this site.
What the quotation I started this page with should say is:
The fact that a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence People and Veterans, Johnny Mercer, has tweeted that he's rarely seen someone receive a fair payout without hiring a lawyer (image above), should say everything there is to say about it. Veterans UK reported to him and the MoD, so he really does know how it works in practice, and he says "the system stinks."
There is a series of books under the general title "Law and Practice" that covers specialist areas of law in great detail to help solicitors, barristers, mediators and judges. These books aren't for your average bod, they are usually owned by specialist law libraries and some law firms as they are exceedingly expensive. There is such a book for AFCS and the WPS, RRP £95. That 'Law and Practice: War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation' exists at all shows that the system is a million miles from straightforward. Initially I could not afford it, but the lovely supporters of this site not only kept the website subscription fees paid for another year, their help also paid for the book. I wonder if Veterans UK have a copy...
An elephant in the room
I hesitate to include this, partly because it shouldn't need to be said, and partly because I worry it will put off genuine applicants.
If you're just chancing your arm with an AFCS claim, and you know you're chancing your arm, don't apply. It slows down the system for genuine claims, and it makes the genuine applicants look bad, because MoD just end up assuming everyone is a chancer, and behaving accordingly.
If you've got an injury, and you don't know if it qualifies for an AFCS claim, ask a charity with experience of AFCS, or a solicitor. By all means get a second opinion.
Mental injuries are difficult to classify and can be missed by specialists. Physical injuries can also be complicated, if there are secondary issues, or if it can be attributed to multiple causes. Think of hearing loss; it could be from helicopter noise, ship noise, IED noise, or heavy metal in headphones or frequent raving. Mental injury could be caused by seeing a friend killed by an IED, or it could be from childhood abuse. A neck injury could be from a car accident, or it could be from flying with NVGs and unsuitable equipment. Remember also that AFCS covers injuries that are partly caused or made worse by service if service is the predominant cause of the injury or the worsening. So if you have childhood trauma which is made worse by your service, you're still eligible for an award under the AFCS (although I would bet a penny to a pound of shit you'd have to fight like hell for Veterans UK to accept that).
If you're having serious mental difficulties, you very often doubt your own credibility. If you're doing that, you're not a chancer. Let someone help you see if you have a qualifying injury. Just like the little old lady who's fractured her hip in the bathroom at home and doesn't want to trouble the GP because she knows they're busy enough already, if you're thinking you're a chancer, you probably aren't.
This is another reason to get legal advice. Lawyers are practiced at being welcoming, friendly people in order to get your business, but before you get to second base, they're going to assess you with surgical precision. If your case is fake, they're not going to get paid when it gets found out.