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Welsh soldiers describe why they feel let down as they struggle to carve out new lives after serving; There is concern that traumatised veterans are being instructed to turn up for benefit assessments.

Byline: David Williamson

Welsh veterans have put the spotlight on the trauma and difficulties faced by former soldiers who have been discharged on medical grounds as they try to navigate the benefits system.

They are concerned that former servicemen and women who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other health problems can be instructed to come to assessment centres and refused a home visit.

Ex-service personnel argue a home visit for veterans should be considered a "common courtesy" and warn of how going to the centres to prove they qualify for help could trigger panic attacks and put people at risk.

Lee Jones, a 45-year-old veteran originally from Pontypool who served with the Royal Green Jackets in Gibraltar and Northern Ireland, suffers from PTSD and other health problems and fears that if he attends an assessment centre and suffers a flashback or gets upset he would "lose the plot".

He has sought a home visit, with his medical centre supplying a list of conditions why he is considered unable to attend an assessment in Newport.

"All we're asking for is something simple," he said.

Describing his disappointment with care for veterans, he said: "I feel let down by the Government, totally. Local mental health is just a joke for servicemen, it doesn't help them."

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Mr Jones joined the armed forces in 1989, taking inspiration from his uncle who had served in the Falklands.

He said he saw "horrible things" in Northern Ireland, adding: "If you mention anything about it, people say, 'Oh, it wasn't that bad out there, was it?' And you're like, 'You had to be there to know.'"

Dave Price, a founder of the Welsh Veterans Partnership, said: "When you've got people with outstanding medical conditions associated with PTSD and other complex situations that have arisen out of their army service, with the Military Covenant they should have a duty of care to give them the opportunity for a home visit if their mental health is affected by them having to go into somewhere that they're not familiar."

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Jamie Knox, a 34-year-old from Swansea, served in the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh and was deployed to Afghanistan three times. He was injured when hit by shrapnel in an explosion and has also suffered back problems.

He joined the Army in 2007 and left this year, and is alarmed at the difficulties former service personnel face as they wrestle with PTSD and the challenge of carving out a civilian life.

He said: "No-one cared about my treatment... The Army should still be there in the background because those soldiers [gave] everything they could and did everything they were told...

"There's no aftercare. You're not their problem anymore."

Describing the difficulty of filling out a Personal Independence Payment form, he said: "This is all like hieroglyphics to me."

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He regards the system as "messed up" and is concerned that people who need help may not describe what they are going through.

"You don't tell no-one," he said. "They're your demons.

"That's what squaddies do, they hide it and they do it well."

Mr Knox argues the United States shows how a better support can be provided for veterans.

He said: "You look at America... I'm not saying we should be treated like gods or anything but they get everything square.

"The veterans are sorted over there, but here it's just mental."

Summing up his situation, he said: "All I want is a bit of help and it just seems there are barriers constantly put up to stop me from having this help."

Torfaen Labour MP Nick Thomas-Symonds said: "I am very concerned to hear that armed forces veterans suffering from PTSD are being denied requests for home visits when their medical condition makes attending appointments in public locations such as assessment centres very difficult. Not only does this seem unjust, it strikes me [it's] against the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant.

"Our armed forces veterans who have served our country deserve to be treated fairly and I have already written to express my views on this matter."

Cardiff South and Penarth Labour MP Stephen Doughty also voiced concerns, saying: "I think there are some very serious questions about how the benefits system works for a range of vulnerable people, particularly given the specific needs of veterans. It's crucial they are given the right advice and support in an appropriate environment to ensure they receive the entitlements they deserve.

"For those who have put their lives on the line for our country, it's essential that we treat them with the utmost respect and support in gaining their entitlements."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "We deeply value the service of our armed forces and are committed to ensuring serving and ex-personnel and their families get the support they need, and have extra provisions in place for them. We spend more than [pounds sterling]50bn a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions. "All our centres meet legal accessibility requirements, but we go further and can arrange to meet at more accessible sites nearby or a home visit where appropriate, and can reimburse travel costs."


Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Soldiers face danger on the battlefield, and many encounter trauma for years to come

Credit: South Wales Echo

Cardiff South and Penarth MP Stephen Doughty
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Publication:Wales Online (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 31, 2018
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