‘Sending one tweet saved my life’ says Afghanistan veteran who felt like killing himself 

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A single tweet stopped Gary Weaving from taking his own life.

Sitting alone at his dining table at his home, the Afghanistan war veteran was at his lowest ebb.

Gary Weaving, 39, from Waterlooville, CEO and founder of Forgotten Veterans UK Picture: Sarah Standing (180549-8889)

Gary Weaving, 39, from Waterlooville, CEO and founder of Forgotten Veterans UK Picture: Sarah Standing (180549-8889)

Among the first 30 soldiers on the ground in the conflict in 2006, the former corporal had seen the horrors of war and was himself badly injured.

With his neck injury getting worse, and no extended family or friends around him, he was at home preparing for a second time since leaving the army to try and end everything.

Then as the night went on, the former Royal Engineer spotted the new iPhone his wife had bought him.

Signing up to Twitter, he sent a message out into the ether: ‘I’ve never felt so alone since I left the Army.’

Within minutes messages of support started to flood in - starting Gary on a path to rehabilitation, meeting with MPs in Westminster and setting up his own registered charity supporting veterans.

‘It was nearly Christmas 2015 - I took a huge, huge overdose and nearly died,’ Gary told The News at his home in Hobby Close, Waterlooville.

‘It was the greatest sign of love I could show my family.

‘I survived - and waited eight months for a mental health appointment.

‘They discharged me after one appointment.

‘Then in March 2016, I was going to do it again.

‘My wife had bought me an iPhone - I’d never had one - she’d left it on the table.

‘I sat there sitting at the table and I thought, I’m going to join Twitter.

‘I thought no-one was going to read what I put or even care - but the first tweet changed my life forever.

‘I tweeted: “I’ve never felt so alone since I left the Army”.

‘Then it went from nothing to 10, 20, 30, 40 people followed me - 40 people cared about what’s happened to me.

‘After a couple of weeks I started to counsel people by using my experiences.

‘The more I sent out those tweets and picture edits, the more people joined.

‘At week seven I had 6,500 Twitter followers and I was invited to Westminster to go and speak to the Armed Forces Covenant about what’s going on in my life - because there are more Garys out there.’

Among the first on the ground in Afghanistan, Gary was under intense pressure to perform in war and was repeatedly warned he would be at constant risk of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Dad-of-two Gary’s war experience - which he says he will not talk about as it remains between him, the Ministry of Defence and fellow soldiers - led to years of undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.

It was only in recent years that he was finally diagnosed with PTSD.

‘I was among the first 30 boots on the ground,’ Gary said. ‘We were meant to be in Kandahar for two weeks’ climatisation - I’d been in Afghan for 45 minutes and we were put with 15 Royal Engineers and 15 Royal Marines.

‘We were so unprepared we didn’t even have the right kit.

‘Every day we were travelling in a soft skin truck but being told we were going to get hit by IEDs constantly.’

Medically discharged from the Army due to his neck injury, which leaves him needing to use a stick or wheelchair, Gary felt almost entirely alone after having to move from London to Waterlooville when he came out the Army in 2009.

‘We got rehoused just outside Portsmouth with no friends, no family and no support,’ he said.

‘Over five years between 2010 and 2015 I went to three different civilian psychiatrists and all three turned me away and said “this is a military issue we are not funded or trained to deal with you”.

‘But none of them could tell me where to go.’

Gary said when he did try and get treatment in Christmas 2015 - after being told by his wife he had to leave their family home to do so - he was unable to get the help he needed.

But now running his own charity, Forgotten Veterans UK, his support of other veterans is helping him keep going.

The bitterness he felt when not getting help has now turned into anger - which he channels to help others.

‘I used to be bitter but now I’m just angry,’ Gary said.

He added: ‘We need to start accepting that we pay trillions in getting us into wars but peanuts helping the men and women that come back.

‘Every suicide will not go unnoticed - every family that has been destroyed will not go unnoticed.

‘They don’t want us counting for this exact reason but now is the time to start serious action. I beg the people with the powers and the money to take this problem very, very seriously.

‘Loss of life on an operation is expected and sadly accepted - the loss of life after the war is over is not acceptable at all.’

CHARITY WORK

Founded by Gary Weaving, his charity Forgotten Veterans UK promises to give a ‘rapid response’ to any veteran in dire straits.

The former soldier’s charity offers small amounts of financial help to veterans, operates a buddy scheme, and tend veterans' graves.

Soon they hope to establish a retreat for veterans at Fort Cumberland in Portsmouth.

If successful, it would offer mental health specialists, together with drug and alcohol nurses.

The former Royal Engineer corporal hopes to win permission from Historic England to use the site.

HELPLINE NUMBERS

Veterans Outreach Support in Portsmouth: (023) 9273 1767

Care after Combat in Whiteley: 0300 343 0258

Samaritans: 116 123

Combat Stress: 0800 138 1619

Support for adult family members of veterans, The Ripple Pond: 01252 913021

Alcoholics Anonymous: 0800 9177 650

Shore Leave Haslar in Gosport: shoreleavehaslar.org/contactus