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Page last updated at 09:19 GMT, Tuesday, 3 August 2010 10:19 UK
Merseyside soldiers adjusting to life on 'civvy street'

Daniel McEneany attempted to kill himself after serving in Iraq

Violence, prison, homelessness and unemployment are just some of the problems faced by an increasing number of former soldiers who've served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Around 20,000 leave the forces every year, many from Merseyside.

Ex-soldier Craig Lundberg, who was blinded by a rocket attack in Iraq, has been looking at the issues former service personnel face for BBC North West Tonight.

He found that many are still struggling to adapt to life away from the armed forces.

Danny McEneany, has post traumatic stress disorder, his experiences in Iraq left him so frightened he kept a pistol in his army room in Germany, and eventually used it to try and kill himself, "I put the magazine in, cocked it and just put it to my head," he recalled.

"I pulled the trigger, but I pulled my head back.

"And then in anger, I shot the wall."

Danny's illegal weapon was discovered leading to a court martial after which he served 21 months in prison.

Four or five per cent of those who have served in Iraq are already suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, and that is about 8000 or 9000 veterans.
Robert Marsh, Combat Stress

He joined a growing number of ex-serviceman in the prison system. The National Association of Probation Officers estimates there are around 20,000 ex service personnel either in jail, on parole, or on probation.

It is believed there are 8,500 ex-service personnel in prison - which would be 8% of the prison population. Danny says this would match with his experience of the number of men he met while in prison, "I was quite surprised, I thought I'd be some novelty, the only one, but there were quite a few.

"Out of 80 lads on our wing, I think 30 of them had been in the forces."

He says if he had received treatment he would have been different.

"When I got arrested and I told them on the interview, I think they thought I was trying to pull a fast one.

Robert Marsh of Combat Stress, a charity that helps ex-service members with mental health issues, says the number of veterans they are helping is growing.

"Last year we referred 1300 new referrals...and that is up 72% since 2005," he said.

"We are seeing a really huge increase in the number of new veterans seeking help. Four or five per cent of those who have served in Iraq are already suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, and that is about 8000 or 9000 veterans."

The Ministry of Defence in a statement says "We work closely with a range of partners across Government, the prison service and the voluntary sector to better serve veterans in prison."

While the prison service says, "All veterans are screened on arrival by a trained nurse or trained officer...those at risk of having a mental health problem, including post traumatic stress disorder, are referred for a mental health assessment."

Danny McEneany however is critical of how much help he received in prison, "They locked me up because I was a dangerous person, and they knew I was not well, and they did nothing to reform me or anything when I was in there.

"I did it all off my own back, I went to the doctors and they were brilliant."

Matt Briton turned to Resettlement Property Services for help after leaving the army

Even those who don't suffer from post traumatic stress can find it difficult to adjust to life away from the forces, especially when trying to find employment in the current economic climate.

Some ex-servicemen can end up homeless and trapped in a spiral of debt.

Steve Doran and Dave Quinn run Resettlement Property Services for ex-servicemen using camaraderie, group activities and a dose of discipline

"There's a lot of tough love here," Dave said.

"We give the guys three options and we're quite strict on that.

"They either get a job, they do some kind of training or they do some kind of voluntary work within the community.

"If they don't do any of those three they will be asked to move on.

"Guys coming out may have a number of problems, whether they've served in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever.

"So, you need to be amongst people who understand the problems you're going to experience."

Matt Briton, who left the army at 20, turned to Resettlement Property Services for help, "I rang them up on the Friday morning, got an interview with them on the Friday night, and I moved in on Saturday," he recalled.

"They helped me really quickly, they saw how desperate [I was]. They knew I had no money on me, no money for a deposit or anything like that.

They just said to me, 'We'll give you a chance'."

Housemates in a Resettlement Property Services house have to pay rent, in return they get a room and a chance to join in group activities.

Matt is in no doubt that the environment has helped him stabilise his life, "I'd probably be homeless or in a hostel with smackheads to be honest with you, to put it bluntly.

"I had £30 and a day sack on my back with a couple of clothes, that's all I had when I came here."

It is likely that the true impact of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan is yet to be felt, Combat Stress say it takes an average of 14 years for ex-soldiers to realise they have post-traumatic stress disorder.

If correct, that could mean many more ex-service personnel will continue to suffer in future decades.

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25 Sep 09 |  Merseyside



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