A soldier who ended up homeless after leaving the Army is backing a new campaign to urge others like him to seek help.
David Swift, from St Helens, joined the Army aged 17 and served for six years before he decided to leave to start a family. But he struggled to adapt to civilian life and when his marriage broke down he moved out so his children and their mum had somewhere to live and ended up sleeping on a park bench for six months.
The 40-year-old, who has since been diagnosed with PTSD, was able to get his life back on track after receiving help from Armed Forces charity SSAFA and now has a long-term partner, a seven-year-old daughter and a stable career.
He is now supporting the charity’s Got Your Back campaign to encourage vulnerable members of the Armed Forces and veterans to put aside their pride and come forward for help when they need it.
David said: “You go from being this soldier everyone respects to being the lowest of the low. People judge you, they think you’re a druggie. You just want to be respected like when you were serving.
“You need to learn how to adjust to civilian life, the second you feel worthless everything spirals out of control very quickly. In the space of a year I went from being a healthy young man in a great regiment to someone sitting in a park wondering what the point of my life was.
“You need help, but your pride is too important to you. You do everything in your power not to ask for help. It’s not within you to back down, your training’s taught you not to. You need to meet other ex-soldiers who tell you it’s ok to ask for help.”
New research from the charity reveals that serving personnel and veterans find it extremely challenging to seek help when they have a problem, and less than one per cent said they would seek help from a charity if they found themselves in need.
While most military personnel make a successful transition to civilian life, some younger veterans in particular are experiencing serious social and financial difficulties and are reliant on food banks while others have ended up homeless or in prison.
SSAFA reports that some of the most common needs of those vulnerable veterans include – urgent debt support, essential food and groceries and clothing, home mobility adaptations for those who have been injured in service and training costs to help them back into work.
However, too often these individuals and their families are either too proud to ask for help or don’t know where to turn, or both. The charity’s Got Your Back campaign aims to let them know it is here for them and always will be.
Rtd Lieutenant General Sir Andrew Gregory, chief executive of SSAFA, said: “Although the majority of veterans transition successfully, SSAFA’s new research has identified a concerning percentage of veterans and serving personnel who are extremely reluctant to come forward for support if they need it.
“The research has confirmed the charity’s suspicions those younger, working-age veterans who the charity is supporting, tend to come to SSAFA only once they have hit rock bottom. When we ask them why they have waited so long before seeking assistance, the answer is very often that they felt too proud to ask.
“It is much easier for SSAFA to help a beneficiary get his or her life back on track at the beginning of their difficulties – which could materialise for many different reasons, rather than further down the line once their issues have snowballed. SSAFA understands that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen are resilient characters.
“Whilst serving the nation they become fitter, more robust and more self-sufficient; they are rightly proud of their role and of themselves. SSAFA’s Got Your Back campaign has a simple and clear message; those who have served this country have protected our backs; don’t be too proud now to ask us to protect yours. Please call us.”
For more information visit www.ssafa.org.uk.