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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 October 2007, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Combating the stress of civilian life
John Flynn
John Flynn was diagnosed with PTSD in 1994

Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson who was left seriously disabled after a landmine exploded under his Land Rover in Iraq is to receive more compensation under new rules.

The government has also announced increased funding for veterans' charity Combat Stress.

It is the only charity in the UK offering residential treatment to ex-servicemen and women suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Alison Smith visited its centre in Leatherhead.

Tyrwhitt House is an overwhelmingly calm place. Serene grounds and quiet activity take the residents a world away from "normal" life.

Those who stay here find home life and civilian living with its bills and chores difficult to deal with.

Our friends think we are freak shows
Former soldier Mike
At Tyrwhitt, they find solace in a quasi-military environment.

Eleven years after leaving the forces, John Flynn got a war pension and was diagnosed with PTSD.

He had been sneaking around, spying on people and, at times, living rough.

His behaviour was a symptom of PTSD. He was trying to gather information on people just as he did while serving in Northern Ireland.

"I don't know why I was doing this," he says.

"I was awkward with my family and my mum. I used to go off and drink. They were worried about me."

Robert Marsh, director of fundraising and PR for the charity, says veterans wait on average 13 years before they are referred to Combat Stress.

The reasons for this are complex. Some have tried going to their GPs, whereas others find their pride holds them back. The forces have a obligatory "can-do" attitude.

Therapy

"The military is much more willing to listen and learn now," says Mr Marsh, who himself served in Bosnia. "And that's a good thing."

This means more veterans are able to recognise that their symptoms are not normal. There the struggle for help begins.

Civilian therapists cannot always help veterans who have been through a multiplicity of traumatic situations. They may have seen their best friends killed and endured regular serious threats to their lives.

Some veterans have reported being asked not to talk about their own experiences in group therapy, for fear of traumatising other patients.

The smoking room
Alcohol is not allowed - but smoking is often a part of life
In the centre's smoking room, Dave, also known as "Bash", and Mike, say they are a "freak show" to their friends.

"People think they do understand because they've seen John Wayne on the telly," says Bash, a veteran of the Falklands and Ireland.

"But you can't just turn over and see someone cooking. It's real people being killed."

"You can't switch off, that's the key factor," Mike adds. "It's always there."

"I'd be lost without this place," he says.

Robert Marsh says a lot of the therapy is consolidated in social settings within Tyrwhitt House.

"One of the great benefits of military life is that camaraderie that you just don't get anywhere else," he says.

Increasing demand

The aim is to get the residents back into life.

Art therapist Nigel explains that in a relaxed setting, where residents can come at any time during the day, some have achieved a high standard of art and earned money by selling their work.

In the military, even your socks are washed. So next to the art room is a kitchen and computer centre to teach the residents social skills.

The Ministry of Defence says it is working with UK health departments to develop a new community-based veterans' mental health service and is aiming for pilot projects across the UK to begin shortly.

Robert Marsh
The increased funding is 'most welcome', says Robert Marsh

It has also announced a 45% increase in funding for Combat Stress.

Mr Marsh says this will help pay for residents' fees. The government does not pay for the assessment of veterans carried out on a local basis by the charity.

Patients are entitled to come here for two weeks at a time, three times a year.

Combat Stress has seen an increase of 27% in referrals in the last two years.

It is increasingly unable to cope with demand and cannot always keep on top of renewing its facilities.

Mr Marsh welcomes the new money, but is worried about the charity's ability to cope in the future.

"Whilst at the moment we are only dealing with 200 or so veterans from the Iraq war, what are we likely to see in 10 or 20 years' time?

"We are in the frame to be picking them all up."

SEE ALSO
Ministers 'failing UK soldiers'
15 Aug 07 |  UK Politics

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