BRITAIN’S HOMELESS ARMY
At least 13,000 British Army servicemen are homeless after leaving the military. Military charities said the shameful figure is a record high and the Government is failing those who risk their lives for Queen and country. They also issued a stark warning that the crisis deepens every month.
Les Standish, who won the Military Medal in the Falklands War, said: “The Government has let these people down. These men and women were willing to fight and lay down their lives for this country and the only help available to them is from charities. The Government needs to do more for them. It’s a disgrace.”
Les, who saved the life of a comrade who had his leg blown off in the 1982 Battle of Goose Green, was homeless for six months after suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (shell shock). The 56-year-old says during his time on the streets and since, he has met hundreds of veterans, from the Falklands campaign through to more recent conflicts, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many are reduced to sleeping in doorways, bus stops and parks, begging from passers-by.
And almost all are struggling with the devastating effects of PTSD, which often leads to other problems, including addictions to drugs and alcohol.
“All of the homeless veterans I met were in need of help,” said Les, a former member of 2 Para who became a prison officer. Describing his own ordeal he says.
“I could see the faces of the men I had killed and would wake up screaming, soaked in sweat. I became too scared to go to sleep. I was medically retired from the prison service. My world collapsed and I was homeless. I slept in my van for six months and felt unable to talk to anyone. But eventually I got help.”
Cait Smith, 45, runs the Bolton Armed Forces Centre for Veterans. She says: “Homelessness among the veterans community is getting worse by the month. The youngest we have dealt with is an 18-year-old and the oldest is 97.
“When I left the Army in 1997 I was a single mum. I had nowhere to live and a child to look after. I felt as though I had somehow failed. I was eventually given help and got my life back together. But I received no help from the armed forces. It was from charities and friends.”
Northern Ireland veteran Tony Hayes, 58, is now the chief executive of Veteran Assistance UK, a charity helping homeless ex-servicemen and women and those who struggle with PTSD.
He said: “Nearly all the homeless veterans we come across have PTSD or some form of mental health problem. Once they leave the Army, they lose their support structure.
“We estimate 13,000 but we believe it’s an accurate figure from what our outreach teams are seeing. From our experience, the problem of homeless veterans has never been greater.”
Charity bosses say the problem has been made worse by cuts to the armed forces, which has led to almost 30,000 troops losing their jobs since 2010. Homeless numbers have soared, despite the Government outlining its duty to serving and former personnel by enshrining the Armed Forces Covenant in law in 2011.
Craig Mealing, 42, completed tours of Afghanistan, Iraq, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Bosnia with the Rifles. The dad-of-three, who joined the Army at 16, said:
“For years all I’d known in the military was flight or fight mode. Then adjusting to civilian life I was suffering flashbacks and nightmares was so hard. My life spiralled out of control.”
The Ministry of Defence said: “We provide extensive help to veterans and their families, including funding the Veterans’ Gateway. The Government is spending more than £1billion to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping.”
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