The new Minister for service veterans yesterday pledged his highest priority was to provide support for armed forces personnel returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Derek Twigg was in Birmingham as part of a campaign to raise awareness for a Veterans' Agency helpline providing information on benefits, housing and jobs training on offer for ex-servicemen and women.

Campaigners for former soldiers said the Government was still not doing enough to help those left mentally scarred by what they had witnessed in combat.

But Mr Twigg said: "I can assure you as the Minister responsible it will be my very highest priority that services will be there for people coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan who need them.

"We have got mechanisms and services in place for people returning from there. The support in place is tremendous, but we are always looking to see how we can improve the help and medical facilities."

Up to 30,000 calls a month already come through to the helpline but its public awareness will be boosted further by adverts set to appear on 200 West Midlands buses.

The agency is alerted to soldiers who receive medical discharges or those who are injured. But ex-servicemen and women are expected to make the first call to access treatment if it is not picked up by the Army.

"We are very concerned we are not reaching younger veterans," said a spokeswoman for the Veterans Agency. "They don't realise the Veterans Agency encompasses them as well and that you don't necessarily have to have a disability. That is why we want to raise awareness of what we do."

John Abbots, aged 40, from Tyseley, said when he left the RAF in 1990, having suffered a ripped knee joint, soldiers were often disorientated and unaware of what support was on offer for them when they left the forces.

"If you are a young adult of 18 years old and you join the armed services, a lot of the time you are following a chain of orders," he said. "When you leave the armed forces that security is taken from you and you go from one extreme to another. You are looking for direction and people to help you."

Campaigners argue that the Army is not being proactive enough in spotting and treating those who have developed problems.

Mark Piotrowski's son James was sentenced to five years in prison after absconding with a stolen weapon, having recently served on the front line in Iraq and Northern Ireland.

Mr Piotrowski said his son, a 22-year-old Irish Guards soldier from Northfield, had undergone a distressing personality change after witnessing horrific scenes in Iraq.

He called on the Army to be more pro-active in spotting psychiatric disorders brought on by war service.

"They are debriefed, and it is up to them to identify their problems, which often don't emerge until they are out on the streets, getting drunk and then getting into trouble.

"A hotline just isn't enough."

Dr Alun Jones is a consultant psychiatrist who has specialised in the treatment of ex service personnel for 40 years, and takes his ex-service treatment unit all round the country, including the Black Country.

Dr Jones said the MoD should go further in its duty of care towards soldiers who had served. A High Court test case in 2003 found the MoD was protected by 'combat immunity' in terms of liability for mental illness in servicemen or women, following active service.

* A study published by Kings College researchers recently found that 19 per cent of regular soldiers deployed to Iraq since 2003 had suffered mental disorders since their return

* Up to 25 per cent of reserve soldiers had claimed to be affected

* The figures compare with the Army's figures showing that 1.5 per cent of soldiers who served in Iraq have developed mental problems since their return

* The Veterans' Agency freephone helpline is: 0800 169 2277