On Friday 22 November, a section of the Help for Heroes’ 40,000 Strong Installation will arrive in Bridgwater for members of the public to visit and donate to receive their own figure – which will help support wounded Veterans, service personnel and their families for years to come.
The installation will be on Bridgwater High Street between 4-8pm during the Snowflakes Christmas Lights Switch On, having made its way from Manchester via other towns and cities – it will then continue on its tour of the country.
In October, Help for Heroes revealed that injury has forced almost 40,000 men and women to leave the military over the past 20 years. Over 25% of these have been since the end of the war in Afghanistan, despite the British Armed Forces not being engaged in active conflict during this period.
The number of Service Personnel whose lives have been derailed by injury grows every day.
The Charity is calling on the Government to review the existing medical discharge process to ensure those forced to leave the military as a result of injuries or illness are given the best possible opportunity to land on their feet and transition well into civilian life.
Video Credit: Help for Heroes
One of the 40,000 to lose their careers was Somerset’s Tara Robertson.
“Being one of those 40,000 myself I think it’s important to highlight just how many of us there are and how many of us have perhaps not had the best support in that time.”
Born in Reading and now living in Taunton, Former Army Private 45-year-old Tara served her country for seven years in the Army where she was posted to Germany and Northern Ireland. In 1996 she was 22 and working as a driver in Lisburn with her whole career in front of her. Then one seemingly ordinary October day, her world changed forever. She says she’d just finished a weekend shift and was returning to base after doing some shopping:
“We came back to camp and were signing in when the first of two car bombs were detonated.
We were only about 30 feet from the car that was packed with 800 pounds of explosives.
“I don’t remember that happening. I was immediately unconscious due to the lump of shrapnel in the back of my head. I was so critically injured that I wasn’t taken to the medical centre – where the second explosion went off. This probably saved my life. Instead I was taken straight to hospital.”
She returned home but says she needed more medical treatment: “I had a couple of operations following my initial injury. I had to go back to Northern Ireland.
“That was quite a challenging time. It was shortly after that I made the first attempt to end my life and was taken back to the UK where I underwent quite intensive therapy on a daily basis.”
She was then diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
Tara explains, deep-down she knew it was the end of her Service career,
“Medical discharge was really the only option for me. I couldn’t perform duties as a soldier. Because of my visual impairment I was not able to handle a weapon, I couldn’t do my job as a driver because I couldn’t drive.
“I had a letter giving me my discharge date and could I please send my ID card back to them. Although I knew that I was going to be medically discharged I didn’t feel prepared for what that would actually mean to me. What was I going to be doing with the rest of my life?”
Tara felt she was having to cope with this on her own,
“I didn’t have any follow up support – there was nothing. I felt isolated and I made the second attempt on my life at that point. Quite a serious one. I think that if I had any follow up support after my medical discharge, I may have had the opportunity to call somebody and get the support I needed at that point. I didn’t have that. I didn’t have anywhere to turn to really.
“I was revived on my lounge floor. I was then put in contact with the local mental health services. They were fantastic. Somebody came around to my house every week. I saw psychiatry services. That was a real turning point because I was getting the help that I needed.”
Tara has now built a life for herself. Through Help for Heroes she competed in cycling in the Invictus Games in Toronto in 2017 and won a bronze medal for cycling at the UK Invictus Trials in Sheffield in July this year. Earlier this year she completed the Race Across America, cycling 3,000 miles across the USA in relay with seven other women.
She says she’s backing the 40,000 Strong campaign to ensure other veterans have the support she didn’t get,
“I just felt very let down. I had been through something beyond words traumatic. Despite my diagnosis of post-traumatic stress and the day-to-day challenge of having a brain injury I was cast aside. I had given myself to being in the Army, being in the Services and I was just cast aside and not important. That’s how it felt anyway.
“Not only that but I wasn’t supported. I’d gone through the resettlement process just the same as anybody who voluntarily was leaving the Army. There was nothing to distinguish me being medically discharged and somebody choosing to leave the job. I think I would have probably benefitted from having some support at that time.”
Mel Waters, CEO of Help for Heroes said,
“Injuries have ended 40,000 military careers in 20 years and every day this number grows. Many of them tell us that their transition impacted significantly on their health, wellbeing and family.
“The medical discharge process is seriously failing those who are let down by major inconsistencies in support, so we’re calling on the Government to commission an independent review of the process to close those gaps. With the public’s support, we’re on a mission to ensure every wounded hero has the best opportunity to stand strong in civilian life.”
In exchange for a donation to fund the ongoing vital work of Help for Heroes, supporters can own one of the model Veterans through the Charity’s website.
To find out more about the gaps in support and how Help for Heroes support those that have been medically discharged visit helpforheroes.org.uk/40thousandstrong/
Help for Heroes offers support throughout the year from its Recovery Centre in Plymouth and community locations across the South West, including at the Blackbrook Leisure Centre, Blackbrook Way, Taunton TA1 2RW every first Wednesday of the month between 10-2pm.