Ex­pe­ri­ence Counts after ter­ri­ble losses

Wishaw Press - - FRONT PAGE - Niki Tennant

La­nark­shire vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies are re­ceiv­ing life­line sup­port from a for­mer Wishaw cor­po­ral who has first- hand ex­pe­ri­ence of the psy­cho­log­i­cal and prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties of mak­ing the tran­si­tion from mil­i­tary to civil­ian life.

For­mer Colt­ness High School pupil An­drew Weir was work­ing as a glazier with Mother­well District Coun­cil when his 16-year-old cousin, Stu­art Weir, of Cam­bus­nethan, was shot and killed dur­ing a train­ing ex­er­cise at Army bar­racks near New­cas­tle.

The tragedy in 1991 had a major im­pact on 19- year- old An­drew, who quit his job and, within two weeks, had joined the Queen’s Own High­landers’ Glen­corse Bar­racks in Penicuik.

“Wishaw was chang­ing, the job was chang­ing and the Army was a bet­ter fit for me,” said An­drew.

The Bri­tish Army took him to Ger­many in 1992 and he mar­ried Anne, of Muir­house, a year later. The cou­ple went on to have two chil­dren, Mark and Melissa, for whom the Army was a way of life.

After a spell in Ed­in­burgh, sol­dier An­drew re­turned to Falling­bostel, Ger­many, be­fore be­ing de­ployed to Bos­nia on a six-month tour.

His Army ca­reer took him to North­ern Ire­land, Cyprus, Iraq and the Falk­land Is­lands, with him serv­ing lat­terly as a wel­fare non-com­mis­sioned of­fi­cer look­ing after the hous­ing needs of fam­i­lies when sol­diers were on de­ploy­ment.

But in 2012, Cap­tain Wal­ter Bar­rie – the boss An­drew held in the high­est re­gard – was shot in the back and killed by an Afghani na­tional on Re­mem­brance Day. An­drew ad­mits that then, it all be­came too much to bear and he left the Army the next day.

“He was a great boss – a great fam­ily man. He was ev­ery­thing you u could as­pire to be. I was s close to his wife and son. I could have done an­other r two years but I went back k to the UK, sup­port­ing g fam­i­lies.

“It was quite hard to take. I have not been able to deal with loss very y well since I came out,” ” ad­mit­ted An­drew, 45.

“I have never had a chance to deal with any y loss. That is one of the e things that has been n high­lighted since I left ft the mil­i­tary. It was a shock k coim­ing out. I did not have e the sup­port that I was led d to ex­pect and I ended up p in de­pres­sion.”

Hi s frus­tra­tion n man­i­fested it­self in anger. r.

“I’d been a solider for r 22 years and my at­ti­tude e was that I should not be e feel­ing like this. I did not ot have these prob­lems while le I was in ser­vice – only when n I came out. I lost three e close col­leagues dur­ing my mil­i­tary time and that has as been re­ally dam­ag­ing over er the years,” he ex­plained.

“I’ve had bricks and nd bot­tles thrown at me but I have never been se­ri­ously in­jured. I’ve had a few close calls in North­ern Ire­land, but noth­ing too se­ri­ous.”

Shortly after leav­ing the Army, he com­pleted an HNC in so­cial care at New La­nark­shire Col­lege, East Kil­bride, with the aim of fol­low­ing a ca­reer as a so­cial worker.

The fam­ily moved from Ed­in­burgh to

An­drew’s home town of Wishaw – a move he ad­mits was dif­fi­cult for all.

He picked up a job as an as­sis­tant sup­port worker with the Scot­tish Vet­er­ans Res­i­dency in Cran­hill, sup­port­ing for­mer mil­i­tary fam­i­lies through home­less­ness, re­hous­ing, drugs and al­co­hol abuse – a role he had to leave due to his aca­demic com­mit­ments.

Then, his path crossed again with Deb­o­rah Burns, who had been Cap­tain Bar­rie’s mil­i­tary clerk for 18 years, and she in­tro­duced him to Wishaw-based project Ex­pe­ri­ence Counts, men­tal health char­ity SAMH and Vet­er­ans First Point La­nark­shire.

In or­der to join Ex­pe­ri­ence Counts as a peer sup­port worker, em­ploy­ees must have lived through trauma and have ex­pe­ri­enced men­tal health dif­fi­cul­ties.

He is now help­ing vet­er­ans with men­tal health, drugs and al­co­hol de­pen­dancy, motivation, use of time and in­te­gra­tion into the com­mu­nity, get­ting out of the house and find­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion.

In sup­port­ing them, An­drew now ow recog­nises that he too en­coun­ters some of the same dif­fi­cul­ties and chal­lenges that they face when mak­ing the tran­si­tion to civil­ian life.

“Ac­cess­ing a de­cent GP who will look at me as a vet­eran with vet­er­ans’ is­sues around men­tal health is a mas­sive prob­lem,” ex­plained An­drew.

“A doc­tor asked me to go and find psy­cho­log­i­cal help for my­self. It wasn’t med­i­ca­tion I needed. It was con­struc­tive help with men­tal health.”

At Ve t e rans First Point La­nark­shire, An­drew re­ceives su­per­vi­sion to help main­tain good men­tal health – a level of sup­port which has al­lowed him to con­tinue his ed­u­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of the West of Scot­land in Dum­fries where he is three years into a BA de­gree course in so­cial care.

The unique in­sight he has into vet­er­ans will, he hopes, fur­ther con­trib­ute to the dif­fer­ence he will make in his ca­reer in so­cial work in North La­nark­shire.

In his role with Vet­er­ans First Point La­nark­shire and Ex­pe­ri­ence Counts dur­ing the past 18 months, An­drew has worked with mil­i­tary men and women whose trauma dates back to the Falk­lands, Locker­bie, Iraq and North­ern Ire­land.

“There haven’t been many from Afghanistan – a few, but not as many as there will be. The amount of vet­er­ans in La­nark­shire is huge and that’s why it’s im­per­a­tive that Vet­er­ans First Point, Ex­pe­ri­ence Counts and men­tal health ser­vices man­tain a pres­ence in this area. By com­ing to these meet­ings, peo­ple are peer-to-peer shar­ing with­out know­ing they are do­ing it in a safe and con­fi­den­tial en­vi­ron­ment,” con­tin­ued An­drew, of North Kil­meny Cres­cent, Colt­ness.

“I have never re­gret­ted join­ing the Army, but I do re­gret leav­ing it.

“It is hard and dif­fi­cult and the de­ploy­ments are long. I would go back and do it all again. I met great peo­ple from all back­grounds and dif­fi­cul­ties and the bosses I have had have been sec­ond to none.

“It is a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The anger is al­ways there and some­thing can make me an­gry and ag­i­tated very eas­ily. Be­cause of my ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reer, I have pushed ev­ery­thing back and tried to fo­cus on dif­fer­ent things and tried not to dwell on what could have been and what could have hap­pened.”

*Vet­er­ans can at­tend ac­cess points ev­ery Fri­day at Houldsworth Cen­tral Li­brary within Wishaw Health Cen­tre on Ke­nil­worth Av­enue, be­tween 11am and 2pm.

For in­quiries, call 0300 303 3051.

Work­ing to­gether Deb­o­rah Burns and An­drew Weir

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