A specialist mountaineering rehabilitation scheme has been launched to help forces veterans living in East Anglia to readjust to civilian life after suffering the physical and mental traumas of war.

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As well as those suffering bodily wounds, many servicemen and women return from battlegrounds like Afghanistan with entrenched psychological health problems such as post traumatic stress disorder, hyper-vigilance, sleep disruption or “survivor guilt”.

An innovative one-year programme, managed by Norfolk and Suffolk mental health charity Julian Support, will give its participants the chance to deal with those issues while undertaking a variety of mountaineering challenges in the UK’s National Parks.

They will also have the opportunity to learn new skills and gain Mountain Leader qualifications in areas like the Lake District, Snowdonia and the Scottish Highlands – and also get one-to-one employment support from a leading recruitment service.

Programme manager Paul Lefever, himself a former servicemen with the Royal Artillery, said: “This programme will bring about substantial improvement in dealing with the trauma many ex-service personnel face and assist participants in readjusting to a healthier way of life.

“It is about the transition from military to civilian life. Some people are highly suspicious of other individuals. If you served time in Afghanistan or Northern Ireland, you didn’t know who your enemy was as they were not in uniform.

“Some have difficulty relating to others, perhaps when things get a bit heated. When you join the forces they train you in the natural responses of ‘fight or flight’. ‘Flight’ is pretty useless to a soldier, so they train you to fight, but they don’t re-instill the flight response when you reach the end of your service, so in civilian life many will still react aggressively to certain triggers.

“We are coming at it from a number of different angles. The mountainous outdoors has a very therapeutic effect, and if certain triggers were to happen and an individual reacts in an adverse way, then we can assist at the time and work with them on a cognitive behavioural approach and getting them to explore why they react in that manner.”

The idea is an extension of the Discovery Quest project, set up by Mr Lefever for members of the public in 2006.

Although chiefly supporting those with mental health difficulties, Mr Lefever said the programme could also take on veterans who may have a physical injury or disability relating to their time in service. The scheme has employed a rehabilitation worker from Headley Court, the MoD’s medical centre in Surrey.

The programme is funded by military charities Help for Heroes and Walking with the Wounded, as well as NHS Norfolk Primary Care Trust (PCT).

Bryn Parry, co-founder of Help for Heroes, said: “We are delighted that Help for Heroes have been able to support this exciting new mountaineering rehabilitation programme. We know how important sport is in recovery and fully support those who work hard to prove that disability need not spell the end of participation in physical challenges. We have no doubt the programme will be a great success and look forward to following its progress.”

The programme has already accepted several referrals, but is inviting applications from former servicemen and women living in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire who have left the forces since 2001, and have an illness related to their time in service.

nFor more information, call Julian Support on 01603 767718, visit www.discoveryquest.org or email info@juliansupport.org.

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