Are Military Charities Overstretched?
“We reached out to a well-known charity for support but we didn’t receive the help we were hoping for”.
Are the government doing enough to support our veterans and is it fair to palm this responsibility off on military charities and other organisations?
I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with fellow veteran Steve Casey last week who served in the Army during the seventies and this thought provoking question was sparked from our conversation.
“I began my Army career in the Infantry but I wasn’t very happy with it and I wasn’t very good at it, so in 1972 I transferred to the Army Dog Unit. That saved my career really because I think I would have left the forces if I had stayed in the Infantry”.
Steve handled guard dogs and search dogs in Northern Ireland during the troublesome times.
“I lost a couple mates along the way as many veterans did during them times and I also picked up a couple injuries”.
“I was on a regular foot patrol in Andersontown and luckily on this occasion, I had left the dog inside the Landrover. I didn’t see the petrol bomb come over but it landed at my feet. In the sixties and seventies, most of the military clothing was made from nylon which did me a f**king world of good. The flames traveled up and under my visor burning my neck, I still have the scars today”.
When did you make the decision to leave the Armed Forces?
“As a dog handler, unlike infantry units, we would transfer between regiments which meant lots of moving around. In 1983 when my daughter was reaching school age, I decided it would be unfair for the family to continue moving around. I initially transferred to the Reserves but then moved onto cadet training”.
“I enjoyed the cadet training, I was lucky enough to be on a regional small arms team teaching range officers to become range officers”.
Would you recommend the Reserves to other veterans leaving the regular Armed Forces?
“It depends on the individual and the baggage they are bringing out with them. I had a bit of baggage but I found being out and active all the time kept me sane. A couple nights a week and the odd week away with the Reserves kept me occupied as well as maintaining that connection to the military. It prevented me from going cold turkey, so to speak”.
Over the past year, I have spoken with many veterans who have left the regular Armed Forces to join the Reserves and I am starting to believe that this method of transitioning from service to civilian is a great way to ease yourself back into civilian life.
Overall, how was your transition from service to civilian?
“I found it really hard because I didn’t really have a stable family background. I have brothers and sisters who I didn’t really connect with and due to my parent’s separation, it was left to my grandparents to raise me. When my grandparents passed away, due to the ways of the military, I missed my Grandmas funeral and I missed my Grandad’s by a few hours. I was a little resentful but you have to accept life is in the fast lane when you join the military”.
It’s nature of the beast, right?
“I was quite fortunate to be home for my daughters birth but I know many soldiers who were less fortunate and missed their children’s birth due to being deployed on operations overseas. It was hard for me at the time but other guys have had it worse”.
What did you find most challenging when leaving the Armed Forces?
“Waking up in the morning without a sense of purpose – In the Armed Forces, your day is always structured. You would usually get up, go for breakfast, do some fitness and then go about your duties. Whereas in ‘civvy street‘, I was waking up, switching the television on and wondering what to do for the day ahead. I found it quite hard for the first eighteen months and after a while, your baggage begins to surface”.
“The little things I would not usually worry about suddenly became momentous issues. I’ve punched holes in walls, walked out the house and slept in the car for days while trying to square my head away. However, there are guys and girls out there who struggle worse than me”.
“I couldn’t get work when I first left the Army but fortunately because I was already qualified, I was able to become a life guard. It’s not the best line of work but it put food on the table. I was used to a regular income but when the income becomes a bit patchy, it adds to the stress”.
“In the end, I decided that I needed to go back to dog handling because that’s what I loved doing. So I got a dog, trained it up and started looking around the private sector for work. Obviously, I had to go through licensing and certain assessments”.
What does dog handling entail in ‘civvy street‘?
“We work at music events and events like Silverstone alongside the drugs section of the security teams. The explosives work used to be quite sporadic but due to the current high level of terrorism within the UK, more clients are highering explosives search dogs for reassurance sweeps”.
Is it now safe to say that you have found your feet in ‘civvy street’?
“I still have my ups and downs. If work happens to dry up a little, there are moments of worry when you think ‘Christ, the money in the bank is dwindling‘. It’s a fickle world out here for ex-servicemen and woman in general. The general public seem to be very supportive of ex-forces but the likes of the government are not proactive as they could be in supporting veterans”.
I agree. I believe the responsibility and care for veterans after service gets palmed off onto charities and although these charities and organizations are doing a fantastic job, it’s not a stable support system in my opinion. If we take into consideration how many veterans there are throughout the UK and how many people are regularly leaving the Armed Forces dating as far back as the sixties, that is a lot of veterans for these charities to provide support for.
“My daughter left the Forces with a minor eye injury but it was enough to end her military career. She had a house fire and bearing in mind she had a baby, we reached out to a well-known charity for support but we didn’t receive the help we were hoping for. The support wasn’t really there”.
“The support for ex-forces doesn’t seem to be standardised. It depends on what area you live in, almost like a post code lottery. In some areas of the UK, the charities and support system is very strong with a keen interest from local politicians. The veteran support system is getting better but I don’t believe we are even half way there yet”.
“We’re seeing more and more drop-in centers like veteran breakfast clubs which is good to see because there are many guys and girls out there who wouldn’t even leave their house to see anyone. There is a fine line between staying indoors all day feeling sorry for yourself and having major mental health issues”.
“In conjunction with the struggles you face during the transition from service to civilian, you also have to face everything that everyday life throws at you. A couple of years ago, I, unfortunately, lost my son who was only thirty-four and burying your own children triggers other memories. I’ve attended a few military funerals and the minute I hear the ‘Last Post’ I fall to pieces”.
This is why here at Veterans Network we truly believe in veterans supporting veterans. Although most of these charities are carrying out incredible professional support, I can’t help but feel they are stretched due to the high number of veterans in need of the support.
“The ex-forces community does help each other a lot and unfortunately it tends to be the government and higher authorities that let veterans down. When I left the forces, I felt like the world owed me a living but you find out very soon that in actual fact, no one gives a f**k”.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone leaving the Armed Forces, what would you say?
“Try to mentally prepare – If you have the intention to leave the Armed Forces, plan for it. It’s a lot easier these days because we have access to the internet. Set yourself a path because once you leave the forces, it becomes harder”.
“Whatever is going on in your life, support each other, speak to each other. I spent the first three years of my civilian life cramming my troubles into a bottle. I’ve lost count of how many nights I have spent sitting on a hill somewhere with my dog talking to him. To someone who doesn’t have a dog, that may sound silly but if I go to my local GP or the NHS, I wonder if they really understand my issues, do they believe me and do they really appreciate what I am going through”?
“Unfortunately, too many veterans succumb to their mental health issues and carry out acts that maybe they would not have committed if only they had the right support. I may have not had the issues I have had if only the ex-forces network was more substantial. Nobody ever really spoke about their issues but it seems these days veterans are more willing to talk about it”.
We understand that military charities can only do so much due to the funding and support which they get. This is why we aim to encourage veterans to support each other in order to reduce the pressure on these charities.
Thank you for taking the time to read this week’s blog. Please feel free to discuss this subject in the Veterans Network Forum.
Jamie and featured veteran Steve Casey.