‘People could think that because we’re leaving Afghanistan the need has gone away...’ - Lord Richard Dannatt calls on Norfolk to support Help For Heroes

General the Lord Richard Dannatt General the Lord Richard Dannatt

Monday, April 21, 2014
9:02 AM

The withdrawal of all UK troops from Afghanistan is set to complete this year, but for many of them a personal battle will continue at home. Help For Heroes bosses have spoken of the challenges in providing welfare for those who have given so much already. Sam Russell reports, in the first of a three-day series.

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Embargoed to 1600 Sunday March 16  Previously unreleased photo dated 15/03/14 of Equipment and material being loaded into the nose of a Boeing 747 headed for the UK after being recovered from closed down UK operating bases in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday March 16, 2014. See PA story DEFENCE Afghanistan. Photo credit should read: Ben Birchall/PA WireEmbargoed to 1600 Sunday March 16 Previously unreleased photo dated 15/03/14 of Equipment and material being loaded into the nose of a Boeing 747 headed for the UK after being recovered from closed down UK operating bases in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday March 16, 2014. See PA story DEFENCE Afghanistan. Photo credit should read: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

He has been a supporter since day one.

General the Lord Richard Dannatt was head of the British Army when he met the founders of Help For Heroes, before the charity launched in 2007.

As a founder patron, he has since witnessed a revolution in care for wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan – who were previously patched up and sent home to fend for themselves.

Mike Taylor at the official opening of The Bridge for Heroes charity shop in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt.Mike Taylor at the official opening of The Bridge for Heroes charity shop in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt.

The work of Help For Heroes can be seen across Norfolk – from the Band of Brothers and Band of Sisters networks it supports, to individual grants for people in need and cash boosts for support groups.

Today Lord Dannatt thanked local people for their support, which he said has made a real difference in this county.

But he added there is still work to do, and it would be naive to think that withdrawal from Afghanistan means the need for support will decline.

“The support, as at homecoming parades, really does servicemen’s morale a huge boost,” he said. “I would like to say thank you to everyone for their support.

“People in Norfolk have been hugely behind it.”

While Help For Heroes has done a lot to help wounded servicemen and women, Lord Dannatt said it had a mountain to climb in 2007.

“I think the problem was we hadn’t had a large amount of casualties coming back to this country for quite some time and in 2006-7 we found medical care and welfare weren’t good enough,” he said. “There’s been a revolution in the last five to six years.

“I think it’s pretty good now, but if we’ve taken several steps along the way I’m sure there’s several more we could take.”

Before Help For Heroes – which introduced personnel recovery centres around the country to boost confidence and teach skills – soldiers had very little support once out of hospital and rehab.

Seeds of change have been sown, but Lord Dannatt said more could be done.

“It’s miserable to be just sat at home on the sofa watching the telly when [ex-servicemen and women] could be with their mates using the time properly, and they recover much faster together,” he said.

“What we need to do is to continue to stay in touch and offer that support throughout their lives.

“Some of the people who suffered life-changing injuries in their 20s are going to need help in their 30s, 50s and 50s.”

He said Help For Heroes has raised about £175m nationally in its lifetime, helping delivery charities like the Royal British Legion (RBL) and also helping people through a quick reaction fund.

The Norfolk Dog Day events alone, attended by some 15,000 people, raised more than £250,000 for Help For Heroes.

Lord Dannatt said the chief thing Help For Heroes has done, together with the Ministry of Defence and the RBL, is to establish the personnel recovery centres.

“The purpose of those recovery centres is that they are the third stage of recovery having been seriously injured somewhere like Iraq or Afghanistan,” he explained. “The first step is surgery at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

“The next stage is rehab somewhere like Headley Court.

“Then the next step is to spend time at one of the personnel recovery centres to either get back into active military life or if the right thing is to leave the service, to be helped into a second career in civilian life.”

The personnel centre for East Anglia is located in Colchester, and will be explored in more detail in tomorrow’s paper.

“If we get involved in some other campaign, which we will do as that’s life, it will be there,” said Lord Dannatt. “We started from quite a low base line as there was a need that was not really being met.

“People could think that because we’re leaving Afghanistan the need has gone away, but for those injured and recovering servicemen and women the battle on the battlefield may be over but the battle for them is there for life – to deal with physical injuries or psychiatric and mental injuries.”

He noted some Falklands veterans took 30 years to ask for help, and wanted to encourage a climate where people asked for help sooner.

And while he acknowledged public perception that there are many military charities, he stressed their work is vital and they are not in competition.

“In the early days of Help For Heroes some people said ‘it’s taking all our money’,” he said.

“But the Royal British Legion has had its best four Poppy Appeals ever, and what that says to me is the British public are very generous and when the case is made properly they will give to the existing service charities.”

See tomorrow’s paper for details about what the region’s Help For Heroes personnel recovery centre does.

What does Help For Heroes do?

Immediate financial support - the charity’s quick reaction fund provides swift cash help to those with life-changing injuries, life-changing illnesses and their families. A total of six grants totalling £14,250 have been given to individuals in Norfolk in the last six months.

To find out more, email the grants team on grants@helpforheroes.org.uk or call 01980 844354.

Personnel recovery centres – East Anglia’s centre can be found in Colchester.

Gives cash to other existing Armed Forces charities, such as Bridge for Heroes. Help for Heroes also supports Norfolk-based Adventure Quest, which provides a bespoke package of mountaineering-based activities to help veterans experiencing psychological difficulties.

Help for Heroes has 45 members of its Band of Brothers and 29 of its Band of Sisters living in Norfolk. The two Bands are people, both serving and non-serving, who have sustained career-limiting or career-ending injuries or illness as a result of service since 2001. People who sign up have access to support beyond cash grants – including work experience and holidays.

The charity has 41 registered volunteers listed in Norfolk, but is desperate for more.

Bridge For Heroes

Bridge For Heroes is a King’s Lynn charity that benefited from a £27,400 Help For Heroes grant.

The group helps restore self-esteem to people suffering post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and was set up in 2010 by Mike Taylor who had spent 17 years in the army serving in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Iraq. After leaving the army Mr Taylor worked in industry for 15 years when he gained valuable experience working with organisations such as computer giants IBM.

He then decided to put all his knowledge into growing the charity he set up.

In its first year Bridge For Heroes provided 1,200 support sessions and this year they expect to hit 5,000. The centre is based around a charity shop model encompassing a respite area, military museum, one-to-one area and information area.

It is used in many different ways to host various group therapy sessions, including model making and time just for coffee and a chat.

The next step, as well as growing the space in King’s Lynn, is to develop similar centres in Norwich and Thetford and then to develop a mobile unit which can link remote villages with the service.

The service also provides support to siblings of those affected by trauma.

Further details of the work done by Bridge for Heroes can be found at www.bridgeforheroes.org

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