Linda Colling: Remember our Sunderland soldiers

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EASY to forget after Remembrance Sunday that the devastation of war is being lived out day in and day out by veterans like Aron Shelton.

He tells how he lost his leg after being injured by a booby-trap bomb in Afghanistan and then lost his Disability Allowance because he was deemed “not disabled enough.”

Disgusting. And how many more Aron’s are there?

Who knows where this 27-year-old would be today if it weren’t for The Royal British Legion, helping him appeal that appalling decision, and after a year-long fight, win back his benefits.

Aron, from Bridlington, is now inspiring other servicemen and women in the Legion’s poster campaign, who need help, support or advice.

So often forgotten are the thousands, who after serving Queen and country, come home maimed physically and mentally and can so easily end up on the scrap heap.

Theirs is a life-long legacy of war. While the loss of a limb is so visible, mental scarring is not.

I talked with Southwick dad-of-three Steve Westwood, 42, who, after seeing service in the Gulf, Ireland and Bosnia is a shadow of his former self.

Suffering post traumatic stress disorder, depression and physical ills, 16 years on after being discharged on health grounds as a private in the medical corps, he doesn’t know where he would be today without the Legion.

“The British Legion has been an absolute blessing,” he said. “Even the lass on the end of the phone was so understanding. She was brilliant.”

Steve is one of the thousands the Legion is saving practically and emotionally, when back in civvy street they so often don’t fit in, are lost off and so many services just don’t understand army life and the complexity of their problems.

Steve, who has worked in umpteen jobs until January last year when he quit as a taxi driver because his hours had dwindled, is now on Jobseeker’s Allowance and living on his army pension with his wife, Debbie, who is 37.

He is still fighting depression and being helped by Combat Stress in Scotland, which is funded by the Legion.

With major sleep and back problems, he is so grateful to the Legion for spending thousands on an orthopaedic bed to help make his life that bit more comfortable.

Steve says: “I look at the young lads coming back now and I see them without limbs or whatever injury they have got and I sat there looking at the wife and said ‘there’s nothing wrong with me,’ but it’s still all up in the head.”

He claims the injections he had before going to the Gulf affected him and he still gets flashbacks of the horrors of Bosnia.

Steve joined up at 17 and for seven years being a soldier was all he knew. It has and still is a massive re-adjustment.

Financially, they are struggling, dreading providing for their children this Christmas, have no car, and Steve needs a stick to walk

This summer, for the first time in years, thanks to the Legion, all the family went on holiday to a caravan at Filey.

The one bright spot on his horizon is in the New Year he will be returning to Combat Stress for more counselling and is grateful for the psychiatric help they have organised for him in Sunderland.

More than £72million will be spent this year by the Legion helping 160,000 serving and ex-serving personnel and their families.

Andrew Drake, Legion manager for the North East, told me how grateful they are for the tremendous support adding: “The message is we aren’t taking this support for granted because young men and women will need our help for many years to come.”