THE heartbroken mother of a special forces veteran who killed himself after feeling abandoned by the government has launched a fight in his memory.
Heroic Danny Johnston served in war zones across the Middle East in one of Britain’s elite military units, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment - the sister squad of the SAS.
But his time fighting behind enemy lines against terrorist groups and dodging death left him traumatised.
Yet despite putting his life on the line to defend the nation that he loved so dearly, he was given no support from the government after he left the army, his loved ones said.
Now his mother Viv Johnston has spoken out about how her family was left crushed by the loss of Danny and how they want to see an urgent change in the help offered to all military veterans.
Her comments come as campaigners accused Whitehall of ‘turning a blind eye’ to concerns suicide rates among veterans were spiralling after a Johnston Press investigation found that no comprehensive official records are kept of the number of British ex-servicemen and women taking their lives.
Mrs Johnston, of Bognor, said: ‘Danny was too special to die alone, the way he did, after all he had fought for and against. He deserved happiness and a future, to grow old with a family of his own.
‘The devastation that losing such a special person has caused us is almost too much to cope with and I could not bear the thought of another mother going through this hell.’
Mrs Johnston has teamed up with military charity Walking With The Wounded in a quest to drum up £100,000 to pay for more specialist mental health therapists within the organisation.
The courageous 61-year-old hopes her campaign with the charity - which includes Prince Harry as one of its patrons - will encourage servicemen and women to talk about their mental health woes.
And with the organisation’s support, she aims to lobby for change in how servicemen and women are cared for after they leave the military.
She said: ‘If we can save one life, just one, by raising awareness, then the pain of Danny's death might have some meaning, and there could be no better legacy for him than that.’
The investigation by Johnston Press, which owns The News, revealed that since January there have been 16 veteran suicides, including five former Royal Marines and two members of the UK special forces.
Yet out of the 98 coroners in England and Wales, and their equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland just one was able to provide data on the number of veterans who have taken their lives since 2015. The vast majority said they were unable to provide meaningful data or did not reply.
The figures mean that ex-servicemen and women are killing themselves at a rate of one every 11 days. During the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014 the rate of British fatalities due to enemy action was one death every 14 days.
The news shocked Mrs Johnston who has called on the government to put new systems in place.
She said: ‘Servicemen need more counselling before they leave the military. They don’t get enough support.
‘They’re just lumped in with everyone else. It’s very alien for them.
‘Sometimes it can take six weeks to get an appointment with a counsellor when they leave the military.
‘When you’re feeling like you can’t take another day of life then six weeks is no bloody good to anyone. There needs to be something immediately.’
She added families were also being left in the lurch, not knowing where to turn when a loved one is in turmoil because of their military background.
‘We knew that Danny was struggling for a while,’ she said. ‘We obviously didn’t realise how near the edge he was.
‘I never knew how to talk to him because he would back off straight away. The last thing I wanted to do was drive him away from this as a home.
‘I really didn’t have a clue of what to do. I just thought if he had a home with his family and friends around him that would be enough but it wasn’t.’
Ed Parker, co-founder and chief executive of Walking With The Wounded, said some veterans were falling through the cracks in the current system.
Although he welcomed ongoing efforts to improve NHS services for veterans, he said there needed to be a system to alert GPs about a patient’s military background and to sign-post doctors where to send them for the appropriate treatment.
‘A lot of GPs haven’t got a scooby-doo what a veteran is,’ he said. ‘But if something comes up on their screen then they can send this veteran on to receive the appropriate care surely that can’t be too difficult. I mean they look at us 500 times a day on CCTV.’
The government confirmed it has no suicide data relating to veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan but insisted it is ‘committed to undertaking this work’.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: ‘While rates of suicide are significantly lower in the armed forces than the general population, any suicide is a tragedy for the individual, their family, friends and colleagues and we take each case extremely seriously.
‘The reasons people take their lives can vary and are not necessarily linked to their service. Help is available for serving personnel, their families and veterans, including through the two 24-hour mental health helplines provided by Combat Stress.’
WALKING WITH THE WOUNDED FUNDRAISER
WALKING For the Wounded is staging a major fundraiser in memory of Danny Johnston.
The event will be taking place on September 1 and will see fundraisers either cycling between 33 and 64 miles across the rolling countryside of the South Downs or a six-mile walk along the South Downs Way.
Known as the Double Downs, it will set off from St Swithuns School in Winchester heading to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park and back.
A fundraising page has also been set up in honour of Mr Johnston. To donate, see justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/walkingwithwounded/dannyjohnston
For more details on the fundraiser or to sign up, see walkingwiththewounded.org.uk/Home/Events/17
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