Former soldier with PTSD uses experiences to help fellow veterans
PUBLISHED: 10:42 26 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:03 26 May 2019
A former soldier who struggled to cope back in the civilian world has found a new purpose working to get fellow veterans the help they need.
Paul Atkinson, 50, from Wisbech, completed three tours of duty on the front line in Iraq, including the second Gulf War in 2003, and also served in Bosnia and Northern Ireland during his 22-year Army career.
But after he returned home to Cambridgeshire he developed post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in service and struggled to hold down civilian jobs.
He said: "After the Gulf War there were a number of incidents that stayed with me. As well as serving in the Royal Armoured Corps, I was a trained medic. At one point I came across a three-year-old who had been hit by artillery and badly injured, and I had to wait and get medical cover to him.
"In Basra, my wagon broke down and my driver couldn't do anything to get us out. We had a lot of explosives with us and we had to just sit there with mortars falling all around, waiting for someone to help us.
"I completed my service in 2013, and a while later I had a very bad couple of years and really crashed. I ended up getting a part-time job in a mobile phone shop. Because of my PTSD, dealing with awkward customers was difficult and I'd have to walk out of the shop to calm myself down."
Mr Atkinson eventually found support from The Poppy Factory, which helps veterans with health conditions move back into meaningful employment.
He was supported by Keiron Coombs, the charity's employability consultant for the East of England who helped him successfully apply for a job as a regional mentoring coordinator for another Armed Forces charity, SSAFA.
Mr Atkinson said: "He helped me think about what I should be doing, and made me realise my own potential and the value of the experience I'd had from 22 years in the Army.
"If it wasn't for The Poppy Factory, I don't think I'd still be here. My life was in such a mess before - now things have really changed."
Mr Atkinson and his team at SSAFA help with practical and emotional support, referring people to other agencies on issues ranging from mental health and pain management to housing and employment.
"I lead a team of mentors who support service leavers, their partners and veterans transition into civilian life," he said. "I'm using my own experience to relate to fellow veterans and show them that even though they may be in a bad place, there is light at the end of the tunnel."
- To find out more visit The Poppy Factory