Growing need for support for Defence Forces veterans as charity targets expansion

Growing Need For Support For Defence Forces Veterans As Charity Targets Expansion
A charity that supports Defence Forces veterans has outlined growth targets in a strategic plan to deal with the growing demand for its services. 
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James Cox

A charity that supports Defence Forces veterans has outlined growth targets in a strategic plan to deal with the growing demand for its services.

ONE – Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann (or the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel) – will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2026. Ahead of that, the charity plans to open five new veteran homes nationally, employ three new veteran support officers (VSO), and further increase its services all over Ireland.


A registered Irish charity offering housing and support for Defence Forces' veterans, ONE's ultimate goal is to help veterans access permanent accommodation, improve their mental health, and prevent future homelessness. Among the charity's plans is the development of new veteran homes in Cork, Limerick, Newbridge, Galway and Louth. The VSO count is also set to increase from four to seven, while an All-Ireland Veterans’ Mental Health Support Helpline will be put in place.

ONE chief executive Cormac Kirwan told "To put context to it, there are 145,000 veterans of the Defence Forces on the island of Ireland. That would be reflective of those who served in the reserve and permanent Defence Forces. Those figures were issued by the Department of Defence to the Public Accounts Committee in June 2000 so it's a real figure. If anything I would say the balance of that figure has changed, in that the original figure would have been approximately 95,000 veterans who would have served in the reserve Defence Forces, and 40,000 in the permanent.

"I would feel now it's probably 90,000 reserve Defence Forces veterans and probably 45,000 permanent Defence Forces veterans. Of that 145,000, there are only 14,300 veterans in receipt of pensions from the Defence Forces. This perception that everybody is getting a pension, that's incorrect... a significant number are not."

Mr Kirwan pointed out that "99 per cent" of veterans transition into "healthy and happy lives" in retirement or other careers.



"We're focused on that 1 per cent of veterans who struggle for a variety of different reasons. Service absolutely has a significant impact and can be a trigger for issues. Individuals unfortunate enough to be involved in an incident either overseas or here... that has a lasting impact on their lives. The issue of PTSD, which can be a trigger for addiction issues, suicidal ideation, martial breakdown.

"Marital breakdown is a significant issue we see, particularly in the Dublin region. The difference between Irish Defence Forces veterans and the likes of the US is that we are a citizens' army. You work in the military installation, but live in the community. Unlike Britain and the US where you have military villages, an individual serving in the Defence Forces lives in the community, so any issues in general society are just as prevalent in the Defence Forces community on top of issues that would be associated with incidents in service.

Since 1994, we've probably kept over 1,000 homeless veterans off the streets in our homes.

"Since 1994, we've probably kept over 1,000 homeless veterans off the streets in our homes. Out of that 1,000, we've moved 90 per cent on to individual independent accommodation, and they've successfully remained in apartments. The skill-sets they've developed have allowed them to live independently."


Mr Kirwan said the veteran support officers are another key area of ONE's work, with the goal of increasing the number of counsellors from four to seven by the end of 2026.

He said the age profile of veterans is also getting younger, with marital breakdown being a big issue, especially in the Dublin area.

ONE chief executive Cormac Kirwan served 28 years in the Defence Forces.

"I have 28 years of service in the Defence Forces. I did initial training, did courses, went overseas.


"All of those create different networks of contacts, they are strong, and you can get support from individuals in those networks. If you don't have a lot of years of service, and you haven't had these opportunities, your network is very small.

"Courses, opportunities and training are all important for support, but if you have left the Defence Forces after a shorter period, all of the support networks with service, when they leave they find themselves isolated and vulnerable."

Finance is the biggest issue facing the organisation, and Mr Kirwan said they rely on the support of the Defence Forces.

"The greatest challenge is financial. It's costing us €1.4 million, we get €660,000 in State support, but we have to make up the balance. We tap into the Defence Forces community, the greater veteran community, for support. Whether it's €25 a year, anything can make a difference. We're going to be focusing on shining light about what we're about and our primary service of providing support."

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