On Trauma and Homelessness

I recently attended the Greater Manchester County Royal British Legion conference, where an issue was raised by a member, who highlighted her motivation for having joined the British Legion over twenty years ago. She had been spurred on by her brother’s experience, who having served in the Falklands War in the early 1980’s, returned home to Britain and having gone through a marital breakdown, disappeared and has since been seen to be “living rough”.

It is easy to forget that across the United Kingdom, up to a third of all homeless people are former soldiers, sailors and airmen, many of whom are living with medical conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, while a little known fact is that more Veterans from the war against Argentina have since died from suicide, than were actually killed retaking the Falklands.

Just before Christmas, one newspaper ran an article which highlighted that over 10.000 members of Britain’s Ex-forces would be spending the holiday season on the streets, while demonstrating that one-in-five “rough sleepers”, had at one time, been members of her majesty’s Armed Forces. According to the article, for those Veterans’ now without a home, “Many found their lives fell apart when they came out of uniform through drink, trauma and the inability to re-adjust”.

This was illustrated through the experience of Graham Culton, who joined up at the age of 17 and after a decade of service, which included tours of duty in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and then medically discharged. Upon leaving the forces he turned to alcohol, attempted suicide three times and split up from his wife. Graham, who slept briefly on the streets, described the situation he fell into as being “very daunting”.

A similar experience was also that of Matthew Bennett, who at the age of 24, spiralled into depression and turned to cocaine after seeing a friend killed in Afghanistan. After struggling to  cope with civilian life back in the UK, he was thrown out of his parents home in North Wales, lost his girlfriend and ended up on the streets. Having now got re-homed and settled, with the assistance of the charity Soldiers Off The Streets, Bennett told the media in December, “I left the Army stressed, messed up, alone and unable to cope.”

According to Bill Murray, chairman of the charity Soldiers off the Streets, the numbers of homeless Veteran's “is a national scandal". “These ex-Forces people are heroes who fought for their country and none should be homeless”. He claimed that homeless ex-Service people could be found in almost every city but singled out the East End of London, Swansea, Derby and Blackpool as being particularly bad, while stating “The Government is leaving it up to charities to help these heroes – how can that be right?”

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