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New service for Welsh Armed Forces Veterans

Families of Welsh Armed Forces veterans struggling to cope with civilian life are to get support from a new service being launched by Barnardo’s Cymru today (Thurs 9th Feb).

The UK’s largest children’s charity will be providing therapeutic and practical support for families of veterans finding it hard to adjust in the community, caught in the Criminal Justice System, or at risk of falling into crime.

The Families of Veterans’ Support Service (FVSS) was launched today at the Senedd, Cardiff Bay with Carl Sargeant, Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, and Melloney Poole, Head of the Armed Forces Covenant Fund which has provided £433,000 to fund the project.

The Valley Military Wives Choir travelled from Anglesey to provide the music.

The launch of the new service follows research by the Royal British Legion which shows that working age veterans are at greater risk of depression,  chronic health conditions and poverty and are also more likely to have unpaid caring responsibilities.

Research has also found that those who experienced difficulties – such as school expulsion or having parents with drug or alcohol problems – before entering the military are more likely to be experiencing difficulties now.

Dr Sam Clutton, Assistant Director of Policy for Barnardo’s Cymru, said:

“Service families are often faced with unique challenges ranging from family members returning home with a combat injury or illness such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, to children having to adapt to a succession of new schools, disrupting their education and limiting their opportunities to sustain long term friendships.

“During their time in the Services there is a shared understanding of the issues that are faced by veterans and formal and informal support networks are in place, but on leaving the Forces these are often lost.”

The charity has been working with the Royal British Legion and other Forces’ charities, Integrated Offender Management Cymru and South Wales Police to develop a consistent pathway that ensures veterans and their families can access Barnardo’s services to address multiple needs.

Barnardo’s Cymru will also be working with the Endeavour veterans’ wing in HMP Parc Prison, Pencoed and the veterans’ wing at the new HMP Berwyn, Wrexham to identify and offer support to families who need extra help when the veteran is serving a prison sentence.

Children with a parent in prison often struggle in school and can feel a sense of loss. They are also more likely to end up in the criminal justice system themselves and suffer from mental health issues.

The service will promote a whole family approach with an emphasis on early intervention where specific multiple support needs have been identified to build resilience in children and their families.

Ant Metcalfe, Wales area manager of the Royal British Legion, said:

‘The Armed Forces community in Wales make a huge contribution to the nation as a whole and have a wealth of skills and knowledge that can and do, provide huge benefits to our communities.

“Although the majority of Armed Forces personnel will transition well into civilian life, some will encounter difficulties, and it is essential the right support is in place for them and their families. This service will provide welcome support for families who may have a wide range of support needs and we look forward to building on our joint working with Barnardo’s Cymru and the other partners.” 

Helen’s Story

Helen Cottrell knows exactly how difficult life can be for the families of veterans.

Her husband Richard who joined the Army as a teenager left the Royal Welsh in 2012 hoping to move into close protection work. But finding it difficult to get regular employment he fell into depression and suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Things became so bad that he considered killing himself.

Helen found the stress of caring for him and her daughter who has special educational needs overwhelming and began suffering from depression herself.

“I was at breaking point. I had no one to talk to and explain that I needed help. Not knowing what was available or how to get help were the hardest things. Without the intervention from Barnardo’s Cymru I don’t know where things would have ended,”

said Helen who lives near Blackwood.

Helen now receives regular support visits from Karen Djohari from Barnardo’s Cymru’s Families of Veterans Support Service.

Helen said:

“It can be very difficult for military families who are used to living in a bubble with all the support from the regiment and other families.

“Once partners have left the services it can be difficult to connect with any support and that leaves people feeling very isolated, even their own families don’t understand or know how to deal with issues such as PTSD.

“Richard was trying really hard to provide for the family when he left the Army but the work wasn’t regular so there were months when we couldn’t pay the bills.

“He wasn’t coping, anxiety led to depression and the return of PTSD and he wanted to do something silly. We have got through the worst of it but it’s been really hard at times.

“My husband fought for Queen and country, he has put his life on the line and lost friends, he has been through a lot. But when veterans return to civilian life they often have to face stigma because they were in the military, they don’t feel welcome. They can be made to feel worthless and end up locking themselves away, unable to face going to crowded places.”

Karen has helped Helen in her fight to get a statement of special educational needs for her daughter and has encouraged her to return to college. Helen now has her sights on becoming a forensic psychologist.

“Barnardo’s Cymru have been fantastic for us as a family. Whenever I felt things were too much for me or I just couldn’t face doing something Karen would say, ‘Yes you can’. She would get me through it. I feel I’ve known her a lifetime and she never lets me down.”