I AM in no doubt that armed forces veterans and their families are a key part of our society.

Even in these turbulent and unpredictable times, my focus remains on ensuring that our Armed Forces and veterans community continues to receive the high level of support that they deserve.

There are approximately 220,000 ex-service men and women of all ages living in Scotland, and the Scottish Government firmly believes they are assets to our country and have so much to offer all our communities, employers and the economy. I’ve personally seen at first hand, the range of valuable skills and attributes which veterans can bring to the work places of Scotland.

Indeed, I want to see more employers, large and small, and across all sectors, accessing these skills, not through altruism – but because they could enhance their business.

I was delighted to be at Redford Barracks last week to mark the launch of a new service by the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership (SCQFP), which helps service leavers and their prospective employers better understand the value of the skills and expertise gained in the Armed Forces.

We want Scotland to be the destination of choice for those leaving the Armed Forces, and their families.

However, I’m aware that we can always endeavour to do more, especially for the small minority of veterans who might need extra help – help to overcome any disadvantage experienced as a result of service, and help in successfully transitioning back into civilian life.

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Which is why I am delighted, once again in partnership with Standard Life Aberdeen, to be opening the Scottish Veterans Fund to bids for funding.

Since its inception in 2008, this fund has invested more than £1.4 million in a range of projects across the country, more than 150 in total.

The fund acknowledges two things: that the Government remains committed to supporting our veterans community and their families, and also that working in partnership with a range of organisations is key to this effort.

One constant in the work supported by the fund has been the sheer quality of the projects it has supported.

I have been lucky to have the chance to visit many of these initiatives, and see the differences they are making to the lives of veterans – for their physical and mental health and well-being, for their housing, for their ability to access services, and more.

And I want to see more initiatives that make real, and practical differences to the lives of former forces personnel and their families.

We look forward to seeing a rich and varied set of bids this year. We would also warmly welcome applications from organisations who want to work with the families of veterans.

And I would like to emphasise that the fund is open to any charity, organisation or body – especially those who have not traditionally worked with veterans and their families – which has exciting and innovative ideas.

As veterans themselves well know, collaboration and teamwork is often the key to lasting success.

We hope the fund opens up a series of new collaborations which will greatly benefit our former service personnel and their families.