Veterans In Action (VIA) are just about to complete a 4,000 mile Walk 4 PTSD around the coastline of Britain with veterans suffering from PTSD and many veterans joining the TEAM throughout the route to show their support.
The purpose of the walk was to highlight Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) suffered by our veterans from recent and past wars and also for veterans who suffer to take part on the walk to help rebuild their confidence, self-esteem and self-belief.
Before the walk the VIA TEAM contacted many media outlets throughout the route including radio, newspapers and TV and not one were interested in our walk in any way or didn’t turn up when they made arrangements to meet us. We also contacted Forces TV who you would expect to be interested but again no reply even though they ran a story about a British veteran, Neil Davis who is walking across the US in his ‘Not Broken – Just Damaged’ charity challenge at the same time and for the same purpose and the support he is getting from the US public is nothing short of phenomenal, a huge contrast to how things have been here.
An additional part of the walk was to raise funds by fundraising in the many towns and cities passed through on the route and again this is used as a tool by VIA to increase veterans confidence by meeting the public, something many veterans who suffer find difficult to do.
Before the walk, the VIA TEAM spent a year in the planning of this huge challenge and spent months applying for permits to fundraise in towns and also applying to large stores for permission to fundraise.
VIA’s fundraising co-ordinator applied to supermarket giant TESCO to fundraise in 90 stores on the route which took approximately 2 months to complete and were told we would have an answer to our applications before we set off on May 04th 2015.
During April we received a letter from TESCO to say we had been granted no stores at all, that is ZERO stores from 90 applications. Our TEAM contacted TESCO to ask the reasons why this would be seeing as they are the ONLY store who has signed up to the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant.
The answers we received were that a mistake must have been made and when told we would be approaching the press to tell them about this, the representative from TESCO asked us not to do this and that it would be sorted. We later received an email granting us 3 stores out of the 90 applied for and when we tried to contact them after this they never replied.
This resulted in the VIA fundraising co-ordinator having to quickly apply for town centre permits with many of the dates needed already taken due to our late applications. Most councils were extremely helpful though and granted us permits where it was possible and for that we are grateful.
VIA have learned a great deal from this walk as to the apathy of the media to anything to do with our veterans now that the war in Afghanistan is over and this then transfers to the public as they no longer see it on their TV’s or in their newspapers.
Many of the public we met on our route were confused as to why we were doing what we were as they assume the government look after those that are suffering which is sadly not true for veterans. In many of the towns we fundraised in we could have been invisible as most people walked past us without even glancing in our direction.
The public are also confused as to who to support as there has been a rise in bogus organisations that are fundraising on our streets using names that resonate with those who support the military.
This is all in such contrast to how things were on previous challenges VIA have undertaken during the recent wars and this is the first we have carried out since our forces have left Afghanistan and the contrast is startling and shows the power of the media on how it influences the populations thinking and support.
The days of bucket rattling in the street is coming to an end as the public are fed up with it and everywhere is saturated with charities doing the same thing and relying on the public to keep digging into their pockets when all they want to do is walk down the street.
This means we need to look at new ways to raise the funds needed to be able to help those in need and VIA are always looking at new ideas on how we can do this but also ways we can involve the veterans we help as this also helps them mover forward and gain confidence.
This is in no way aimed at the public as generally they are incredibly supportive of our veterans and Armed Forces. They are however influenced by the media from what they see and read and the media for some reason are not interested in anything to do with our veterans who suffer apart from the odd expose designed to shock.
This is also led from higher up by the Government and MOD who deny there is a problem and that veterans suffer no more than the general population. A simple search on Google will find that Combat Stress, the leading veterans PTSD charity has had a 26% rise in those asking for help.
There are many military charities working with veterans suffering from PTSD, including VIA, all doing different things and of course this again confuses people. Many people say they only give funds to the well-established charities such as TRBL, SSAFA, H4H and of course that is their choice but they don’t deal with veterans suffering from PTSD.
Many veterans told us on our walk that they only support Combat Stress for those suffering from PTSD and that is fantastic but one thing I always say to them that if you are doing up your house you don’t just use a hammer (although my wife would say I do), you use every tool available to you and there are many organisations to choose from such as talking2minds, Warrior Programme, PTSD Resolution and many more who all use alternative methods and of course VIA who offer something different completely which involves veterans challenging themselves both physically and mentally, and is an addition to therapy, not a replacement.
The Afghanistan and Iraq wars saw a huge rise in military charities starting up and this again confuses people. As said most people recognise the large military charities, and wonder why there is a need for so many smaller charities and of course that is understandable.
As an example, I will use something that happened on our recent walk to highlight why they are so necessary;
Whilst in South Wales our TEAM was contacted by the wife of a veteran who was concerned for her husband. The veteran was known to our TEAM and had taken part on our expeditions so as we were in that area we visited the house of the veteran who was in an extremely bad way and talking about taking his own life.
The first call we made was to Combat Stress, the leading veteran’s mental health charity to be told that they do not work with veterans who are in crisis and that we should call the local crisis team.
Initially this is something the veteran didn’t want us to do so we looked at what local organisations there were and also called his GP. We were told to contact the All Wales Veterans Mental Health which we did and explained the situation to them and they asked if we would like to refer the veteran to them to which we replied in the affirmative.
We were then told we could but the only councillor they has was off on long-term sick leave so the veteran would not be seen for a while (remember the veteran was in crisis and talking about taking his own life). We then contacted a local organisation who offered to take him for a cup of tea and chat……..
Next call after discussion with the veteran was to call his Regimental Association to see if they could help with his rent and they were very helpful but told us the procedure was to go through SSAFA. This was our next call and we were told that we were calling the wrong town and needed to call the town we were in which we did only to get an answering machine…….we left a message explaining the situation (we received a call 4 days later, again remember the veteran was in crisis).
We then received a call from the local crisis team and they told us to bring the veteran to their centre and we told them that we would. The veteran’s GP then turned up and was very helpful but told us to take him to the crisis centre which we did.
The crisis team were very helpful and managed to calm the veteran down and told him they would visit him the next day. They asked me if I had contacted Combat Stress and I informed them that I had but they would not be able to visit him for between 4 and 6 weeks which is normal and the crisis team told me this would be much quicker than they could get help for him.
This is just one example of one veteran who is suffering but it happens in every town and city throughout the country and is the reason why so many small military charities have started up which is to fill that gap whilst a veteran awaits for help.
These small charities are in many cases the lifeline the veteran needs to help them move forward, they are a friendly face in their own community who can visit them right away when they are in crisis not a faceless answering machine or online application.
This is no dig at any organisation just an honest account of how things really are for our veterans community when they need help.
The consequences of what would have happened had VIA not been in the area when this veteran needed help are unthinkable.
VIA ae in no way despondent about anything from our walk, just the opposite in fact as we have learned so much. As I keep telling the veterans we help, ‘If you keep on doing the same thing, how can you expect a different result’?
We must also do this as a charity and to this end we have been working whilst we have been out on our walk on a series of sponsored events for next year plus the first PTSD Awareness Month which will start in October 2015 and become an annual event. Details of these events will be on our website during September.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all who supported us on our walk from the Breakfast Clubs who invited us to partake in their clubs and provided us with free breakfasts, those who walked with us and those who supplied us with food or helped us fundraising.
Without that support our walks would be incredibly hard to do as your input and enthusiasm to help not only helps our TEAM but the veterans we help who are blown away by your support.