Veteran charities in Portsmouth say they have seen a rise in calls from people seeking help after Afghan withdrawal

CHARITIES in Portsmouth say they have been inundated by calls from veterans who are struggling with their mental health since the Taliban have taken back control of Afghanistan.

Tuesday, 7th September 2021, 7:26 am
Gary Weaving, from Forgotten Veterans

Portsmouth-based charities Forgotten Veterans and Solent Mind have both said they have seen a surge in calls recently.

The two charities have urged veterans, and their families, who may be struggling to get in touch.

Gary Weaving, 42, founder of Forgotten Veterans, a charity based in Southsea, served 10 years in the army and served in Afghanistan.

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Steve Johns, from Solent Mind

He was part of the first squadron that built Camp Shorabak, formerly known as Camp Bastion, and was part of Op Herrick 1.

He was medically discharged in 2010. Once released, Gary moved to Portsmouth.

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He explained how, after leaving the forces, he became a ‘recluse’ and ‘went for help many times but unfortunately it just wasn’t there’.

Gary Weaving, from Forgotten Veterans

Without the necessary support, Gary tried taking his life but survived.

Gary said: ‘It was right at the beginning of the austerity cuts in 2016 and I realised that if I’d have had a friend, someone to talk to, someone to guide me, someone to give me information, then maybe I wouldn't have done what I did, so I started off a ground-breaking buddy scheme on Facebook.

‘It was right at the beginning of the austerity cuts, so we had our heroes sat in the dark, 78-year-olds, with no electric so I started giving out hardship assistance.’

After Gary’s traumatic experience, he went to Portsmouth City Council and acquired a space at Fort Cumberland, Eastney, which he turned into a retreat for forgotten veterans.

The charity Forgotten Veterans is partly sponsored by NHS England and is a non-profit organisation which seeks to provide support for all veterans.

Gary explained how they are one of the only charities in the country that will collect veterans and provide them with a crisis break when they need help.

Gary said: ‘It’s been an extremely successful place. We’ve had over 700 veterans in severe crisis in the last three years and we reckon we’ve had 10,000 veterans through the door, which is a phenomenal amount.’

Research conducted by King's College London estimated that PTSD amongst veterans is higher than the public. The percentage of veterans with PTSD is estimated at 7.4 per cent, whilst the public is at 4 per cent.

Due to events in Afghanistan, Gary explained how he has seen a large rise in veterans needing extra support for their mental health and well being.

He said: ‘Obviously, recent events have sent a bit of a wave through my community, especially the younger ones, the more Afghan veterans, and we actually ended up putting on a special camp about a week ago because of has been going on in Afghanistan.’

The charity has a therapist, a psychologist, a professional life coach and an NHS subscriber and have been so successful that they now get sent veterans that other programmes cannot help, for various reasons.

He said: ‘We get sent the forgotten, the ones that struggle the most and we are very proud of what we have created down there.

‘But it’s not about us, it's about the people we serve, I am an integral part of it but they follow me because I am them, yeah, I’ve had problems, I’ve had addictions and I’ve had issues and I’ve never hidden that or shied away from being honest.

‘They follow me because I am them, they follow me because I don’t look down on them, because I speak from the boots I stand in, not from a book or from a higher rank looking down, and it’s worked very very well.’

The government released a report in March 2021 that demonstrated the increase of suicides in men that have served in the army. In 2014, the suicide rate amongst army males was 6 per 100,000, however, in 2018, the number of suicide rates amongst army males was 15 per 100,000.

Across Portsmouth there are multiple charities and organisations that help and support veterans, and a lot of them have also seen a surge in calls for help.

Steve Johns, a former army veteran and now service manager for Solent Mind, based at St Mary’s in Milton, said the service has been very busy with an influx of calls from veterans who have been affected by the recent news of events in Afghanistan.

Dad-of-three Steve said: ‘We have seen a significant increase over the past two weeks with calls that have come in from local veterans and family members.

‘I held a meeting last week with Solent Mind staff who are former military veterans.

‘They have recently received a significant number of calls from former colleagues expressing real concern about the complex situation in Afghanistan.

‘Solent Mind are responding with a variety of services to meet the specific needs of individuals who may have mental health issues as a result of the ongoing situation.’

Steve said the organisation is dedicated to helping veterans living in Portsmouth.

He said: ‘We are here to support Portsmouth based veterans who may be dealing with their own mental health issues, and we will never turn anyone away.

‘We would encourage any veterans who are struggling as a result of the situation in Afghanistan to contact us and we will provide the necessary support required, alongside the other excellent support organisations in the city.'

Solent Mind offers a range of support services and Steve encouraged veterans who are dealing with their own mental health to get in touch.

Get support

For anyone that is struggling with any type of mental health, Solent Mind can be contacted via telephone on (023) 8017 9049 and any general enquiries can be sent via email to [email protected]

If you are a veteran that is struggling, Forgotten Veterans can be contacted via telephone on (023) 9225 6738 and can be emailed, [email protected]