THE Plight of former armed service personnel has been put in the spotlight by a groundbreaking NHS initiative, and calls for reform from Crewe’s Royal British Legion (RBL) chair, Stuart Kay.
Stuart, a former paratrooper who served in Northern Ireland, spoke to the Guardian about adjusting to life after the forces, and has lead calls for greater recognition on the problems faced by former soldiers.
This week, a new NHS Live At Ease programme launched in Crewe, with the aim of helping discharged services personnel adjust to life on civvy street, and reduce the amount of soldiers, sailors and airmen that suffer when they are released.
Michael True, head of service for Live At Ease, said: “Cheshire is home to over 70,000 veterans – nearly one sixth of the region’s ex-forces population. Research shows that many of these veterans find the transition to civvy street challenging.
“Live At Ease provides immediate support to help with these practical and emotional challenges. If they aren’t addressed they can often lead to long-term physical and mental health problems.”
The new scheme is funded by Central and Eastern Cheshire NHS Primary Care Trust, and will work closely with other agencies in Crewe supporting veterans, including Crewe Jobcentre Plus, Remploy Crewe and the probation office at South Cheshire Magistrates Court.
It offers free one-to-one support to all ex-forces personnel and their families to help veterans with drug and alcohol addiction, unemployment, debt, family breakdown and housing issues.
Live At Ease is available to any Crewe and north west residents who served in the forces up to 40 years ago.
Each client has a dedicated caseworker who puts a support plan together to ensure they get the right support to avoid developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and social problems.
Stuart Kay, chair of Crewe RBL, supported Crewe and Nantwich Young Labour Party’s sleeping rough event last week, which highlighted the estimated 13 per cent of homeless people in Britain that were once in the services (see page 7).
The 58-year-old spoke to The Guardian to give an insider’s view on the issues facing former soldiers.
He said: “There are a lot of ex-servicemen that end up in homeless statistics for one reason or another. Some people that join up haven’t got a family, so when they come out there’s no family to support them. There are mental health reasons as well. That’s a very prevalent issue.
“Some of the things that soldiers have to deal with can leave problems in their heads. If it’s not dealt with properly it means they find it hard to settle back into society.”
Stuart said reforms to the way members of the armed forces are helped back into to civilian life were overdue. He drew attention to the additional soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, with cuts to the MoD budget meaning more personnel will find themselves jobless.
Staurt pointed to elevated stress levels resulting from recent deaths at the hands of supposed ‘friendly forces’ in Afghanistan.
He said: “I think the mental health aspect will be a big problem in the future if it’s not addressed properly.
“These people in Afghanistan are in a high state of stress all the time. They have to think not only about being shot by the enemy without, but also the chance of being shot by someone inside the wall.”
Stuart was part of the Parachute Regiment serving in Northern Ireland during the height of The Troubles in the 1970s. He was injured during a parachute jump while training in 1974.
“You have to perform so many jumps each year to keep your wings, as they call them. It was an unfortunate accident. They said I couldn’t parachute and I was being transferred, but I was actually being discharged.”
Stuart said it had been a ‘shock to the system’, but while he managed to adjust to civilian life, others were often less fortunate.
“Soldiers come home for two weeks, see their friends and family, and then have to go back to it.
“From my experience of being an ex squaddie, it does affect your life – coming out and suddenly having to adjust.”
He added: “It can be a hell of a stressful time for wives and kids as well. They have a squaddie ticking away, still trying to be a soldier in their head. It can be like a big ball of mess just waiting to explode. It only takes one thing and it can go off, and they might end up in prison.
“They train for so long to be aggressive that it becomes normal for them, and they don’t have time to readjust. It can lead to problems.”
Educating young troops about proper financing after life in the services was another key area, said Stuart.
“In the army, they deduct your expenses and you’re just left with your spending money. When you come out, you suddenly have to sort everything out yourself. If you were young when you joined up then you’ve probably never had any experience of finances,” he said.
Stuart added that the Government, the MoD and other agencies needed to ‘up the ante’ on helping soldiers settle back into civilian life.
He said: “Britain does an excellent job looking after its armed forces with things like the Poppy Appeal, but this is an area that’s needed looking at for a long time.
“It’s very easy to put people into battle, but trying to get them out and back into civilian life is a different challenge.”
To find out more about the Royal British Legion, visit www.britishlegion.org.uk For more information on Live At Ease, call 0808 123 1 123 (free from landlines), text for free 07537 404 535, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.liveat-ease.org.uk.