Returning from Afghanistan in 2012 it became evident that things where very, very wrong! I have been very open about my experiences pre and post diagnosis; most of which form most of my blogs. I’ve also stated that whilst I was still serving, treatment and consideration was there. However, the day I was sent home following a medical discharge was the last day I heard from the military.
This is also the time I was the most vulnerable and needed them the most. I spent a couple of years absolutely on my arse. I was only just existing, hardly able to get out of my own front door. I planned how I would take my own life to end the nightmare, and on more than 1 occasion almost carried it out. Thankfully I was blessed to be lifted out of the depths of darkness by my collar, just in time.
Not everyone is that fortunate. Every week I am sharing Beacon Alert posts by All Call Signs (https://www.facebook.com/allcallsigns/), of veterans who have gone missing, some sadly later found dead. It was only last week I shared one and it was someone I recognised; what’s even scarier is that my face could have so easily have been one of those being shared. I personally receive more and more messages from serving personnel, veterans and their families, reaching out to me for advice because they are struggling to find the support. I was left to the mercy of my family and friends to help me out because the services ‘left me to it’. Twenty plus years of exemplary service, caring for others in my role as a paramedic and then left to fend for myself. Sadly this is not uncommon and this is why families are falling apart and why veterans are taking their lives. Partners are struggling to manage the ‘stranger’ who now greets them rather than the individual they fell in love with. Those struggling find their nightmare hard to talk about, unable to put into words what is going on in their heads. The frustrations may come out in anger and can push loved ones away. I know this because it happened to me. PTSD and other mental illnesses manifest themselves in many different ways. Not every veteran with mental illness has PTSD; many have anxiety and/or depression not related to combat. Some struggle with OCD, adjustment and personality disorders due to service life. It affects veterans differently so treating the diagnosis is just not enough. Some veterans not receiving support struggle to sustain a relationship and a decent home life. They then end up homeless or get themselves into trouble, ending up in prison.
Veterans are being failed every day and something needs to be done. No more false promises of money and support. From a huge mental health budget made available to the NHS, only £10 million is ring fenced for veterans (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/25/nhs-completely-fails-veterans-on-mental-health-care-report). Transition from service is hard enough mentally, without the added pressures of having PTSD or other mental illness. The government released information about a scheme allowing service families to stay in their quarters for 12 months post service, but what about those living in single accommodation? They still need to source housing and work, not just the family unit. More needs to be done to aid transition, including medical support. I know there are things being put into place but it’s not happening quick enough, nor directed in the right place. The MOD isn’t even recording veteran suicides despite the push to do so. They say they don’t have the information yet a coroner came out today stating the information is there.
Veteran ID cards have now started to be rolled out to personnel just leaving service. Rollout to existing veterans will happen later in the year. The cards may well be successful but your relying on other agencies to support veterans still. There are many great people doing amazing things for veterans, but not the right people. We shouldn’t have to rely on charities and the goodwill of other veterans to help us through. Veterans are currently helping other veterans, peer to peer, despite some of those still struggling themselves. However, without this peer to peer support, I fear the suicide figures would be increased further…..
Support needs to come from within the military whilst individuals are still serving, not allowing them to be signed off sick and medically discharged. I didn’t even have the opportunity to go and collect my belongings, but to be fair, I really wasn’t well. Thankfully my help came from a lovely lady, yes, from a charity, who collected my boxes for me. I am aware that some veterans are only diagnosed with a mental illness following discharge from service, but many are, and are being failed.
Early intervention is vital, as is full support prior to leaving. Not medically discharging individuals mid treatment would be a start. People need half a chance of recovery if they still want to live a life outside of the military. PTSD and other mental illnesses are not, and should never be death sentence. If caught and managed early enough you can live with them. You learn what triggers you, and you learn how to manage them. If its caught and treated at the earliest opportunity some may even recover completely. There is medical treatment and rehabilitation for physical injuries whilst still serving so why not for mental illnesses? Many veterans give EVERYTHING they have to the service, yet feel the most abandoned when they need that loyalty and support back. Why would they want to fight their nightmare when theres nothing to fight for and noone to fight for them…..