THE loving wife of a traumatised war veteran has told how an armed forces charity in Portsmouth helped to save her husband’s life.
John Shepard, of Gosport, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after his time serving the nation, which saw him completing a tour of Afghanistan.
His mental health declined to such a point he was discharged from the army and soon became a prisoner in his own home, too anxious to venture outside.
It was only when the 38-year-old approached Veterans Outreach Support, in Portsmouth, for help did his life begin to turn around.
Since then, he has started to overcome his PTSD – so much so he was able to represent his country during last year’s Invictus Games in Sydney, an experience he never dreamt he could have achieved.
Now his wife Lexie has spoken out about her thanks for how the charity helped her husband – and is urging other veterans in need to come forward and seek help.
The 37-year-old said: ‘Right from when I first met John there were night terrors and disturbed sleep. He would go a whole week without sleeping. He would become very insular. It was hard.
‘Since coming to VOS and receiving all the treatment and support there, he just keeps going forward and getting better.
‘There’s still more we all need to work on. But I am seeing the man I fell in love with again.
‘VOS has given me my husband back.’
The charity has been operating out of Portsmouth for more than a decade.
Now based in the Royal Maritime Club, in Queen Street, Portsea, the organisation has grown enormously and has the backing of major national forces charities like Combat Stress and SSAFA as well as the NHS.
John said: ‘VOS has made a massive difference to my life in helping me to overcome my anxiety. It’s given me a new thirst for life.
‘At its worst I was only happy going to the local shop and back but anything more than that I couldn’t do it on my own.
‘I was hyper vigilant. It was very easy to set me off. Home was my safe place. I was trapped there.’
As well as being able to signpost veterans and their families to organisations which can support them with issues ranging from mental health to finance and housing, VOS also has a team of trained clinicians on hand to offer treatment.
They provide everything from triage and drop-ins, to psychiatric and psychological assessments; medication reviews for mental health-related prescriptions, individual psychological therapies and referrals on to specialist services.
Lisa Vallance has been the clinical manager at the organisation for the past two years.
She was inspired to join after hearing about the charity’s reputation within health care circles and said seeing veterans like John come back after their treatment was hugely rewarding.
She added: ‘PTSD is not about people being weak. It only happens to people who experience truly traumatic experiences – it takes a strong person to experience that.
‘VOS is hugely important for veterans. I have seen first-hand the difference it can make.’
Hundreds of veterans make use of the charity’s monthly drop-in sessions.
Founded in July 2008 after the 25th anniversary Falklands pilgrimage, VOS began as a peer support group.
Founding members Dr Morgan O’Connell, John Erskine and David Watts, all Falklands veterans themselves, together with Ann Townsend, whose son was killed in the conflict, wanted to create an informal environment for service veterans, where they could access a range of support services.
David said he was amazed at the progress of the charity, which opened up a new drop-in centre on the Isle of Wight earlier this year.
He said: ‘I’m massively proud of everyone here and what’s been achieved. I would never have dreamt VOS would have grown like this when we first started.’
The charity now has a new chief executive leading it forward, Ian Millen. The retired Royal Navy Commander said he was eager to continue with the charity’s expansion.
‘There are still more people out there we know we need to reach – we are determined to help everyone that we can,’ he said. ‘We know sometimes the hardest thing can be coming through the door. But once they are, the support we can offer can be vital.’
John added: ‘I left school with nothing. Now I have served my country in the army and represented my country as an international athlete. It feels like a dream sometimes.’
VOS runs drop-in sessions on the first Wednesday of every month from 2pm to 6pm.
For more details about the charity, call 023 9273 1767, email email@example.com or visit see www.vosuk.org.