Monday, 18 June 2018

It’s time to focus on veterans

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder might not seem like something that would overly affect ‘leafy West Sussex’ but this extremely important subject had a real focus at our last County Council meeting thanks to a question from a fellow councillor.

At the County Council Meeting there is a Question Time session for any Cabinet Member and myself. Although you may have an idea of a question relating to a local division or arising from the Cabinet Member Reports, sometimes there is a totally unexpected question – and that is what happened at the last council when David Edwards, councillor from the Bersted Division, asked me a question about support for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

In asking the question he gave a personal and very moving account of how he had suffered from PTSD over the years, fought off suicidal thoughts and when he was reaching rock bottom how his wife helped him to face up and deal with his PTSD. It was one of those moments at council where everyone listened attentively and reflected on what was said.

We were one of the first councils to sign up to the Military Covenant in the South East and now hold silver status; this is a statement of commitment to veterans and service personnel. There are no special deals other than having a greater awareness and helping veterans into civilian life.

Part of the Military Covenant is acknowledging PTSD but is it enough?

At the end of the First World War other than a few enlightened doctors and nurses hardly anyone knew about PTSD. Yet we know that so many men returned from the war to end all wars extremely traumatised, mentally scarred and in some cases damaged beyond any help or medication that was available at the time. Combine all that with the fact that there was a massive stigma around mental health. It is appalling to think that sufferers were told to keep a stiff upper lip or to pull themselves together. It is hard to imagine the agony that those with PTSD and their close families  must have gone through.
Over the last 20 years there has been the Iraq war in 2002 and straight after the Afghanistan War- 10 years where our service personnel have been engaged in armed conflict, that is same time as the First and Second World Wars put together – but with no space between.

Army, Navy, Air Force, men and women have been putting their lives on the line to keep us safe to protect us – that is quite some job. Those service men and women while on duty have missed family gatherings, births deaths and marriages anniversaries and birthday – all those special occasions most of us would routinely attend but for those serving, missing out on such events is part of their job and way of life.

So when these brave service personnel leave the services whether because of injury, retirement, end of service term they face a very different way of life outside camp life and that in itself is a challenge.

I strongly believe that they have earned our respect and support, after all our democracy is protected by those service personnel.

At the invitation of Ian Buckland the County Councillor for Littlehampton Town I dropped into see the Littlehampton Veterans Breakfast Club last week. Supported by the military Covenant Breakfast Clubs began as a local initiative in 2007 and is now a national network. It is an informal way for all veterans to meet up chat and support each other.

Each week they gather in Café 72 where the proprietors Ruth and Gary allow them to use the premises for the morning. Veterans drop in to have a breakfast or just a cup of tea and coffee, chat and catch up. What was really notable was the camaraderie in the room and care shown for each other; wrens and all ranks just enjoying their morning together. I had such a warm welcome and was so impressed by the friendliness and how everyone  was looking out for each other so no wonder they have grown in numbers across the UK. Such clubs are great to help veterans and it was good to join in.

Every time I meet with our varied and wonderful community groups big or small, the power of the community never ceases to inspire and amaze me, it is those groups and individuals that make up our wonderful county and that makes me extremely proud.


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