The hero of so many wars who could take no more

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AL­MOST twice as many vet­er­ans and serv­ing sol­diers took their own lives last year than ser­vice­men died in the first Gulf War, say cam­paign­ers. In 2018, there were 79 known or sus­pected sui­cides, – one ev­ery five days. Vet­er­ans’ groups fear the real num­ber is higher but say sup­port for those suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion and post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD) is sim­ply not avail­able when needed.

With many wait­ing more than three months to see a spe­cial­ist, there are con­cerns that too many of those who served their coun­try are “fall­ing through the gaps”. The toll was cal­cu­lated by Jim Wilde from Vet­er­ans United Against Sui­cide, who says the num­ber is dou­ble that of pre­vi­ous years.

Now the Gov­ern­ment is be­ing urged to act by pro­vid­ing serv­ing sol­diers and vet­er­ans with sup­port to deal with men­tal health is­sues. Many of those who take their lives are suf­fer­ing from ei­ther de­pres­sion or PTSD after serv­ing in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Of those known or sus­pected to have taken their own lives last year, 51 were vet­er­ans while 13 were serv­ing sol­diers. Pablo Snow, who runs vet­er­ans’ mag­a­zine The Sand­bag Times, said: “It’s been a very hard year. I know there are lots of peo­ple with men­tal health is­sues who need help but these peo­ple served their coun­try and have wit­nessed ter­ri­ble things, per­haps they should be af­forded spe­cial­ist treat­ment as soon as they find the courage to speak about how they feel.”

A for­mer sergeant who served in the Royal In­fantry for 22 years, Mr Snow bat­tled for four years to get a place on a course deal­ing with com­bat stress.

“I tried to take my own life, I’m not proud, but I was that far down I could not get any­body to lis­ten. Thank­fully, I man­aged to turn my life around.”

Now he is work­ing with PTSD spe­cial­ist Dr David Muss to de­velop an on­line coun­selling ser­vice for sol­diers strug­gling to ac­cess help through the NHS, us­ing the Rewind tech­nique to treat pa­tients.

It wasn’t un­til Oc­to­ber that the Min­istry of De­fence agreed to record ex-sol­diers’ deaths in in­quests. But cam­paign­ers com­pil­ing their own fig­ures say they show a “shock­ing statis­tic”.

Re­tired War­rant Of­fi­cer First Class Jim Wilde served in the Royal Army Ord­nance Corp and now lives in Maid­stone, Kent, from where he con­tacts vet­er­ans on­line. He said: “There were 79 deaths last year. The num­bers are rising at an alarm­ing rate – one death from sui­cide ev­ery five days.

“I am driven to get­ting the Gov­ern­ment and MoD to ac­knowl­edge the sever­ity of the issue, and stop pay­ing lip ser­vice to it – stat­ing they will ad­dress the issue, when they have no plans to do any­thing of the sort.”

Rewind ther­apy claims to “de­trau­ma­tise” peo­ple. It is drug-free and cost-ef­fec­tive be­cause it is pos­si­ble to quickly train ther­a­pists who can de­liver ses­sion treat­ment. Dr Muss says it had an 85 per cent suc­cess rate after a ses­sion in Rwanda with 21 sur­vivors of the coun­try’s geno­cide. It has not re­ceived NICE ap­proval.

Mr Wilde said: “We have writ­ten on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions to the MoD but just get plat­i­tudes. They say the sui­cide rate among ex-ser­vice­men is no higher than that of the pub­lic. This Gov­ern­ment is in de­nial.”

In Oc­to­ber, the MoD said it would in­ves­ti­gate sui­cide rates among vet­er­ans of Afghanistan and Iraq. A Gov­ern­ment spokes­woman said: “The MOD has in­creased spend­ing on men­tal health to £22mil­lion a year and has set up a 24/7 helpline for serv­ing per­son­nel so there is al­ways some­where to turn in times of cri­sis.”

Sa­mar­i­tans: 116 123 LANCE Cor­po­ral Dave Jukes sur­vived North­ern Ire­land, Bos­nia, Iraq and Afghanistan but not the guilt of liv­ing while oth­ers died.

For a decade his wife Jo lived with his wors­en­ing post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der and acute de­pres­sion, while des­per­ately seeking help for him.

Even­tu­ally, un­able to cope with his volatile be­hav­iour she made the ago­nis­ing decision to take out a court order ban­ning him from en­ter­ing their home.

He be­gan sleep­ing rough in an al­ley near their Birm­ing­ham home then in Oc­to­ber took his own life in the garden. Three weeks ear­lier he had writ­ten to NHS vet­er­ans’ men­tal health ser­vices warn­ing he was “get­ting worse” and needed “to be put away” or he would kill him­self.

Jo says she tried to get help but be­lieves both she and the sys­tem let him down. The for­mer in­fantry­man, 49, was a full-time re­servist who went on to serve in al­most ev­ery ma­jor cam­paign Bri­tish forces have been in­volved in over 25 years.

After Afghanistan he quit but suf­fered flash­backs and night­mares. At night he would sweat or get up and say “I can’t han­dle this”. He was haunted by an in­ci­dent in Iraq and would fre­quently ask his wife: “Why am I alive and they’re not?”

After los­ing his job and in the grip of PTSD, his fam­ily fled when he bar­ri­caded him­self in the at­tic then smashed up the house. Jo con­tin­ued to seek help, from the GP, the health au­thor­ity, the MoD and char­i­ties.

Liv­ing in fear of vi­o­lence she asked him to leave, giv­ing him £1,600 to help him find some­where to live.

In­stead, he went to see his father for the first time in 20 years then vis­ited for­mer com­rades, blow­ing all the money in the process. No one knew he was say­ing his last good­byes. On Oc­to­ber 9, he was found dead.

“Partly I blame my­self be­cause I was the one per­son he had and he must have thought even I had given up on him,” Jo said.

“I didn’t give up on him. I just got per­suaded by other peo­ple that me and the girls were in dan­ger.

“He once told me that he would never harm me or the chil­dren and he never did. I know he was ill but I should have trusted him on that. It’s some­thing I’ll have to live with.”

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