SSAFA ‘a shoulder to cry on’ for servicemen across Norfolk

David Capps served 22 years in the RAF Regiment and between 1979 and 1998 completed tours in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Gulf War and Bosnia.

Twelve years on from being discharged, he is suffering with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), flashbacks and cannot sit with his back to windows.

Mr Capps, 51, of Manor Park, Watton, added that he would 'crumble' if he were to walk around Norwich city centre and finds Watton on a market day difficult to cope with because he views everything as a potential threat.

He first got in touch with the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) Forces Help, the UK's oldest Armed Forces charity, in January last year. He has been unable to work since then.

Mr Capps, who is divorced with four children, previously worked as a health and physics technician decommissioning old buildings and buildings and detecting dangerous substances.

'I'd be ferrel without SSAFA. I'd be living in a forest somewhere,' he added. 'Sue Pilcher (Norfolk branch secretary of SSAFA) has been an absolute diamond. She has been there for me when I needed a shoulder to cry on or somebody to talk to. She speaks to people I cannot talk to because if they don't say what I want, I get frustrated.'

For the first few months he could not leave the house and even now certain sights and sounds, including low flying aircraft, can induce flashbacks.

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He said: 'When you come out of the service there is no off switch. I just burnt out and had a complete breakdown. You feel totally helpless.'

Through SSAFA, he has received support from looking through paperwork, boosting his income through the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and putting him through treatment for his trauma.

The charity has been helping serving members of the armed forces or veterans and their families for over 125 years and provides case workers, as well as sourcing money from different forces charities.

It also helps widows and children under the age of 18 of servicemen who have died in conflicts, helps refurbish homes for people who have been injured in action and supports elderly veterans with nursing home fees.

Mrs Pilcher said: 'They (servicemen) couldn't manage without SSAFA. We are providing a service which is unique. Anyone who is in financial distress or who needs help, we are there for them.'

She added that PTSD is becoming more common among servicemen.

Mrs Pilcher, a former civil servant from Swaffham, said SSAFA helps former servicemen whose benefits are cut and aims to plug the gap.

'The situation is similar to the days of the workhouse,' she added.

There are 45 case workers in Norfolk, who are all volunteers, and last year SSAFA helped 587 people and sourced �405,000 for people in the county.

Mr Capps, who grew up in Plymouth, joined the RAF Regiment when he was 17 years old and was a fighting soldier for different RAF regiments.

He helped secure Army airbases during various conflicts and in 1982 during the Falklands War he was part of the UK taskforce on the QE2.

In the same year he was part of an anti-aircraft unit trying to stop Argentinian aircraft attacking the British ships arriving on Green Beach at Port San Carlos.

He found the 30th anniversary of the Falklands liberation on Thursday difficult to cope with and wrote a poem to mark the occasion.

Mr Capps ended his career as an armed combat instructor with the RAF and was a depot instructor at RAF Honington in Suffolk from 1998 to 2000.

He said: 'The RAF regiment is a family. The regiment will always look after each other. I have seen a lot of places, met a lot of people and done a lot of things. I wouldn't change anything. I loved my time in the service.

'You are lost when you are discharged. As a serviceman, because you have to do a job first the forces sort out pay, rent and other financial areas. They deal with all that. When you come out you have never had any experience of that before - there is no transition. You hand in your ID card at the gate and that is it.'

Mr Capps left the completed a City and Guilds qualification in radiation safety practice, which he completed in an RAF six week resettlement course.

But he said a lot of employers are reluctant to take on former servicemen.

Donald Abbott, 56, from East Tuddenham, is another veteran who has been helped by SSAFA over the past two years and during the mid 1990s.

He served three years in the Royal Navy, from January 1974 until May 1977, as a marine engineer.

Mr Abbott successfully found work after being discharged, first in a slaughterhouse and then as a car mechanic.

But for several years he has been unable to find work and last October lost his �100 per week Employment Support Allowance, which was replaced with Job Seekers Allowance where he receives �67.50 per week.

This cut forced him to struggle with household payments.

Mr Abbott said: 'I found this wealth of friendship and help with SSAFA.'

The Norfolk SSAFA office is at the Territorial Army Centre, 325 Aylsham Road, Norwich NR3 2AB, ring 01603 403322, email or visit

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