Sunderland ex-soldiers need help on Civvy Street

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ARMY redundancies could lead to an increase in the number of veterans falling foul of the law, council bosses have been warned.

A report presented to Sunderland City Council’s cabinet identified 27 ex-servicemen offenders out of 524 people monitored by Northumbria Probation Trust’s Sunderland Local Delivery Unit.

But the Responsive Services and Customer Care Scrutiny Committee warned that number is “very likely to be an under-reporting”.

The report warned that, as Sunderland is traditionally a high recruiting area for the armed forces, forthcoming cuts could see that number rise if the council and charity groups do not provide the necessary support to former service personnel.

Social isolation and exclusion, alcohol and financial troubles were identified as the three most common factors in the majority of offending by former soldiers.

The Sunderland Armed Forces Network has been established by veterans to give help and advice to former servicemen and women.

Chairman Graham Hall told the Echo that while a lot of good work is taking place, there is still a lot more to be done.

“The problem is the care and support they get when they come out.

“From going into the armed forces, they have had everything provided for them.

“It’s like someone suddenly taking your car, money and house away. What would you do?

“Veterans can become bitter and angry. They’ve often never had to pay a bill, their rent, council tax and we’re just asking them to come out and get on with it because they’re big tough squaddies. Well they’re not.”

He added: “All too often we write off these guys because of their age or because of what we think they are able to offer to society.

“Some will make the argument that if they get locked up at least they’ve got a roof over their head and three square meals a day.

“A lot of great work is now going on and people should not demonise our former service personnel.

“We should look at the problems and ensure that when they are discharged into society, that an opportunity exists for them to be employed have a reasonable standard of living for themselves and their families.”

The Sunderland Armed Forces Network can found at www.safn.org.uk, or on Facebook.

SOLDIER X joined the army aged 21 in 1999.

He served with the King’s Own Scottish Borderer’s and was discharged after nine years, in 2006, having served in Iraq during Operation Granby and Northern Ireland.

He quickly found a job and a new flat but fending for himself proved difficult and stressful.

Ultimately, an incident involving alcohol landed him in prison.

While there, Soldier X was visited by a Veteran Support Worker and a bed at a Salvation Army hostel was arranged for him upon his release.

It was a miserable time for Soldier X and he described the hostel as “like still being in prison.”

Despite completing a 14-week construction course, which he says “saved his sanity”, he soon found himself back in trouble with alcohol.

He was kicked out of the hostel and on to the streets, feeling increasingly alienated and depressed.

A friend put him in touch with Norcare, a North East charity established to provide support for people struggling to re-engage with society.

The first phase of his recovery focused on his health and he used the peace and quiet to improve his diet and go to the gym every day.

Following this, he was enrolled on to a residential course on rural life skills and then a horticultural course.

With continued support, Soldier X found independent accommodation more than a year ago and is in regular contact with his daughter.

He has met a partner and has had a second daughter, and now has a job with the Forestry Commission.