Armed forces charities have come together to offer support to current or former members of the armed forces, their families and dependants.
The monthly meetings offer a chance to get advice on housing, money, benefits, or employment; support at time of bereavement; or just take the opportunity for a chat.
Zoe Kirby of the Royal British Legion invited the Crawley Observer to come along and meet the group.
Pat Donnachie of Help for Heroes said they help serving or former personnel with physical rehabilitation and/or mental health support.
Their project Hidden Wounds works with groups like Combat Stress and Walking with the Wounded to help people dealing with anxiety, depression, stress, anger, or alcohol problems.
They can also give benefits advice and help with filling in forms, help with careers advice and CV writing, and help people to find sports and hobbies that will keep them active.
Sally Fisher, from the Royal British Legion, said she gives advice on money management, benefits, and debt. This can be anything from tips on reducing spending, to help with declaring bankruptcy.
“It’s mainly council tax, and rent and mortgage arrears,” she said. “I also go to benefits tribunals for disabled veterans that have been turned down for disability benefits.”
Steve Hinton of The Carers Centre said he is there to help anyone who gives unpaid support to a friend or relative, where there is a military link. People usually assume that this involves carers who support elderly retired soldiers, but he said they could just as easily be veterans of Afghanistan or Iraq.
Most of the carers think of themselves as friends or partners, and don’t realise they are entitled to help.
“I find out if they’re getting all the help and benefits that they’re entitled to,” Steve said. “If they’re not then I put my sergeant major hat back on, and start shouting at people.”
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Julia Molony is co-founder of Ripple Pond support network, for adult family members of physically or emotionally injured military personnel. She realised there was a need for such a network after one of her sons was badly injured in Afghanistan in 2009 and eventually had to have a leg amputated.
A meeting with Sue Hawkins - who was in a similar situation - helped them both to realise the value of talking to someone who understrood.
Sue went on to be The Ripple Pond’s other co-founder.
“Most of the people coming forward are living with those who have mental health issues,” said Julia. “The groups are self-help, so there’s no facilitator or counsellor in charge of them - they’re in charge of themselves.”
Jane Burt works for the Sussex, Kent and Medway Armed Forces Network, an NHS-led group which includes health workers, the Royal British Legion, and any interested charities and organisations such as the police and local authorities.
Members of the network try to improve the lives of the armed forces community. They provide training for anyone whose work brings them into contact with veterans or reservists, to help them understand how to engage with members of the armed forces.
- Meetings are held at The Civic Halls, The Boulevard, Crawley, on the first Friday of each month, 10am to 12.30pm.
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