Billy joined the army in 1977 as the youngest Junior Sapper in the Royal Engineers at that time at the age of 16 and 5 days and went on to serve for several years serving on various operational and non-operational tours.
“What started as a very promising career took a downturn due to immaturity and injuries which cut what should have been a full career into much shorter than hoped and after 9 years, I found myself in the alien world of civilian life where at that time there was no mobile phones or social media, I know hard to believe isn’t it!
I walked through the camp gate for the last time and had at least 200 friends and all of a sudden, they were gone and apart from my family, I was now in a world that I never really understood and not knowing how to move forward.
I did though, and after a few jobs I set up a successful taxi business that I ran with my family for 25 years, but I was angry all the time and wasn’t happy with my life and was depressed but kept it all inside which resulted in more bursts of rage, it wasn’t a good time for my family but thankfully they stuck by me.
I was referred to a psychologist and after one session, either I wasn’t ready for therapy, or it wasn’t for me so at the second session I told the therapist that I felt great and was then struck off.
I came out of the therapist’s and said to my wife, “What do I do now!.
I looked back to when I was happiest, and it was my time in the army and I wanted to do something to help veterans who were feeling just like me”.
In 2008 the initial concept was to do something to help veterans who were suffering the effects of war but what could we do to help?
Billy went to one of the large charities to offer support but was met with negativity, so he decided to do some research as to what was happening within the military charity sector.
Billy wanted to do something that was active around his own interests and from his experiences as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers. He never found what he was looking for in the UK so started to look further afield in the USA, Canada and Australia and eventually found a programme in Australia called Wilderness and Adventure Therapy that was designed by a Doctor Simon Crisp which was for young people.
This was the initial basis of what was to become what Billy did design, Veterans In Action and the ALIVE Programme.
Since those humble beginnings, Billy has created a charity with a family feeling where veterans feel safe and can participate in many different projects and expeditions all set around the VIA ALIVE CENTRE on the Hants/Wilts border.
Billy received an MBE for his work helping veterans and the work carried out during Covid.
ALIVE VIRTUAL CHALLENGES are unique compared to those you might find through an internet search. These challenges not only make a difference for yourself but also for military veterans who have experienced the effects of war or who have struggled with transitioning to civilian life.
Unlike traditional challenges where you simply pay a fee and receive a medal, our challenges are all about MAKING A DIFFERENCE by raising funds equivalent to the mileage you complete.
Click here for more information
I needed focus I needed something to fill my time, well maybe not fill my time but something to focus on like a target, a needed to get back my drive.
I started to help VIA ‘Veterans In Action’ and found something that I could do, use the old skills that I learnt in the army and more since I left which I did not register I had.
I had been missing that motivation to do something that I wanted to do and gain that level of self-gratification and achievement.
Everybody has a skill set, but it’s the motivation to use it we can lose, VIA have various projects on the go all the time, hopefully I have found my niche to help them and myself to gain personal gratification by being a member of a team again and a job well done.
After discussions I realised that it’s this which advances my mental well-being and my ongoing fight against depression and the feeling of worthlessness.
I have woken up, helping hand in hand with fellow soldiers suffering from labelled disorders finding strength from weakness, realising what helps them generally does helps me, the recognition has been an awakening.”
Ian ‘Chalky’ White former 17th/21st Lancers and B Sqn 22 SAS
Veterans In Action have been filming our expeditions for many years for our YouTube Channel, Veterans Expeditions Overland, and through this experience of not only running the expeditions but also capturing footage that enables veterans who have taken part in a place of reference to recapture how they felt by taking part.
The Veterans In Focus project enables veterans to learn new skills and record not only the expeditions we run but also the day-to-day work on all projects connecting them all together so everyone feels involved in all aspects of the work we do.
VIA take a long-term approach to helping veterans who suffer to enable them to grow within a project working alongside their peers. All this can be achieved within this project which can be ongoing and would allow veterans to learn new skills or to pass on skills learned during their time in the services
Some of the outcomes of the project are a sense of purpose, regaining confidence and working in an environment alongside other veterans where they can instantly feel relaxed, chilled-out, secure, and safe.
Veterans can work at their own pace, stop thinking negatively, concentrate, learn new skills, be part of building something, and most importantly where problems are understood this will positively impact mood and stress levels.
For those involved in the project, they can also get involved on an expedition HERE
I became involved with VIA in 2010 after my life took a turn for the worse and was invited along to do some fundraising with them. This helped me no end and in time my life got back on track. I completed a Union Flag Walk with them from Cape Wrath to Land’s End which again helped as walking and talking with other veterans with similar stories was a great help in understanding how I was feeling. I gained control of my life again.
In 2019, I took part in an overland expedition travelling through the Spanish Pyrenees and whilst away my life took a turn for the worse again due to family problems back in the UK. On my return I had to start again and rebuild and focus on the future and with the help of Veterans In Action I got back on track and took control.
I now own and run my own courier business.
Mark Colman former Royal Engineers
To date, we have travelled 25,000 miles travelling through 30 different countries and some of them several times both on overland expeditions for humanitarian aid through the pandemic and more recently supplying medical humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
It is important to note that to take part in one of our overland expeditions we insist that veterans get involved in the BUILD IT part of the project. The reason for this is part of the Post Traumatic Growth process which is our method for helping veterans so that veterans can grow within a team of their peers, learning new skills and relearning old skill sets that may have been forgotten after service.
Leading up to an expedition involves expedition training which will include off-road driving, navigation, camp setups, camp cooking and daily maintenance, something most veterans will understand from their time in the services.
It would be unfair for any individual to turn up on the day of an expedition who hadn’t previously been involved as everyone else would have been working together over a long period of time so due to the very nature of the mental health problems of those we take out on expedition turning up on day 1 for any individual could become very difficult to find where they fit in no matter how welcoming everyone was.
It is the involvement long-term on building the vehicles that enable veterans to grow that gets them to a place where they fully enjoy all aspects of the expedition experience starting from the minute that an overland expedition sets off.