How being a volunteer for charity SSAFA is vital to help veterans

Jason Wheeler
Jason Wheeler
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Coming out of the armed forces can be a lonely and tricky place. As some veterans feel lost and even contemplate taking their own life, military charity SSAFA provides practical and emotional support for those who feel they have no way out. Natalie Walker speaks to the Lancashire branch about its work and the need for more volunteers.

The military charity, which has supported currently serving members of our Armed Forces, veterans and their families for over 131 years, is seeing the requests for support from this group increase and become more complex.

It support members of the Armed Forces community including Jason Wheeler, who served 15 years in the Army, as a Corporal in the Queen’s Royal Hussars.

The 43-year-old was medically discharged in 2013 suffering from PTSD and depression and became increasingly isolated. When he was burgled in 2015 it proved to be a turning point and a SSAFA caseworker has helped him to look to the future.

He says: “Afghanistan was the first time I had seen anyone get shot. I worked with some fantastic guys and I could not get it round by head why these people were getting killed.

“I remember coming back home and I didn’t want to be alive anymore. My intention was to fall asleep and not wake up.

Chris Nelson

Chris Nelson

“I tried to take my own life five times. I started to starve myself. Rubbish was accumulating in my flat and I was hoarding bottles of urine.

“Luckily SSAFA gave me a life again. My case worker saw something in me that I couldn’t see. SSAFA dealt with the bigger picture, giving me emotional and practical support. They applied for funding for me so I could redecorate my flat.

“I started to feel good again and I wanted to live.

“I now have a fantastic relationship with my daughter and I have so many reasons to get up in the morning.

SSAFA campaign poster

SSAFA campaign poster

“SSAFA has pulled out all the stops and it has given me my life again.”

SSAFA’s Lancashire branch supported 135 veterans and their families in 2016.

It operates volunteer led support services from divisions in Blackpool, Wyre and Flyde, Burnley and Padiham, Hyndburn, Lancaster, Pendle, Preston and South Ribble and Chorley, Ribble Valley, Rossendale and West Lancashire with an urgent need for new volunteer caseworkers in East Lancashire and Blackpool.

SSAFA volunteer caseworkers help in a range of ways, including visiting veterans in their homes and providing support with issues such as homelessness, marriage breakdown, mental health problems, debt, and training costs to get back into work.

SSAFA helps access funds for house adaptations for a service man or woman injured whilst fighting for their country.

Volunteers also befriend elderly veterans to combat loneliness and isolation.

Chris Nelson, of Hoghton, served in the Royal Engineers and after seeking support from the charity, opted to become a volunteer case worker.

The 54-year-old says: “I was a serving soldier and SSAFA helped me and my family.

“I wanted to repay the kindness the volunteers showed me.

“When I first started as a volunteer veterans were aged 70 or 80, now we get them as young as 19 as they come out of serving in Afghanistan with horrific injuries.

“There are many different factors involved with problems after being in the forces.

“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can hit 25 to 30 years down the line. Veterans may develop a drink or drug problem, so we can put them in touch with the right people.

“We also check up on the welfare rights of ex military in custody.”

Chris strongly urges people to consider volunteering as the charity’s services are vital in supporting ex-servicemen and women.

He adds: “I really enjoy volunteering. Nothing makes me feel better than helping someone who has fallen on hard times and putting a smile on the face.

“You don’t need a military background. Volunteers will be trained at our central office in London during a three or four day course.”

Sue Pillar, SSAFA director of volunteer operations and former Army Lieutenant Colonel, said: “SSAFA predicts that the welfare needs of the Armed Forces community in Lancashire will continue to rise. World War Two veterans are now well into their 90s and the impact of conflicts such as the Falklands, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan on our younger veterans and their families continue to reveal themselves.

“SSAFA is looking for local men and women who are willing and able to help provide a lifeline to veterans and their families in need. Volunteering for SSAFA is a unique challenge that is rewarding, interesting and hands-on, that requires planning and problem solving using local knowledge to support the varying needs of a wide range of people.

“The men and women who have served in our Armed Forces have given so much it is now up to us to support them.”

If you are interested in joining your local SSAFA Lancashire team, visit http://www.ssafa.org.uk/newrecruits or call 0800 032 5612.