A look at life after the forces

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“When your back is against the wall, it is nice to have someone who can show you the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Pete.

The 60-year-old, from Lings, in Northampton, served as a gunner in the Royal Artillery, and like many ex-service personnel found it difficult to adjust to life in “Civvy Street,” when he came out in 1975 after eight years service.

“I came out because my dad had a heart attack and he wanted me home because he thought a man should look after his family.

“You have to learn different skills and techniques when you come out.

“When I came out, I was assigned to a steel works. I was there for six weeks and I was made redundant, then I ended up being an undertaker.

“When you come out, no one wants to help, well that’s what it was like in those days.”

However, these days more effort is being made by a number of bodies to make it easier for soldiers to adjust to life outside of service. Pete is one of many soldiers who has benefited from the expertise on offer at the Northampton branch of Citizens Advice (CAB).

It has a specialist team of workers who support ex-service men and women – and their widows – across the county who aim to support them in their overall financial welfare, funded by the Royal British Legion.

The support comes as a number of organisations, including Northampton Borough Council, have recently got on board, by adopting the Military Covenant.

Linda Flecknell, South East Midlands area manager, for the Royal British Legion, said: “The Armed Forces Covenant was published in May 2011 and sets out the relationship between the Nation, the State and the Armed Forces.

“It recognises that the whole nation has a moral obligation to members of the Armed Forces and their families, and it establishes how they should expect to be treated.

“At the local level, Community Covenants are being signed across the country bringing military and civilian communities together and the adoption of a military covenant in Northants will prove exciting and show great commitment and support by all those partnerships working locally together to achieve the very best for our Armed Forces and their families.

“One great service The Royal British Legion offers is our Benefits and Money Advice Service. Since its launch in 2007, the service has put £70 million back into people’s pockets – through increases in benefits, writing off debts and gaining grants – with an average financial gain per person of around £2,800.”

Martin Lord, chief executive of Northampton and District CAB, said: “Research has shown that ex-service people are a section of the community that are more likely to have financial problems than others.

“Their time in the Armed Forces has not always prepared them for life outside. They may have financial issues, or issues with budgeting, or they may be more likely to have mental health problems brought on by what they have experienced.

“They can also have health problems or disabilities resulting from time spent at conflicts that require support.

“You are looking at a wide range of ages, from those who are 25-30, who have recently come out, or people in their 80s who have done national service.

“We can offer practical and confidential support. Financial problems can be fixed. There are a lot of solutions out there, and if people come to us we can point them to solutions they may not have thought about.”

Lisander Whiby, senior case worker, benefit money advisor, added: “A lot of our referrals come from the Royal British Legion, but people can come in themselves.

“As long as they have done seven days paid for in any of the Armed Forces, then they are eligible for a case worker.

“We can give advice on benefits, debts. It could be they require administrative support with filling out forms. We aim to put people back on track.

“People who have been in the Armed Forces for a long time may have had a great deal of support and then have found it’s not always there for them when they leave, but there is support out there.”

Another big issue for ex-service people can be housing, and with the Northampton Borough Council recently signing up to support the covenant, this is another area where there will be increased support.

Councillor David Mackintosh, leader of Northampton Borough Council, said: “It will help us to look at the issues that actively affect members of the Armed Forces and their families.

“In the past if people have been trying to get housing through Northampton Borough Council they might have found it difficult if they couldn’t show a recent local link , as they may have worked overseas for years, but they will now get more support.

“As a council we will also generally be thinking about the impacts of them being in the Armed Forces and the best ways of supporting them.

“We are also planning to work with the county council on things like education, to try and support them with gaining new skills. There will be issues we may not yet be aware of but it is a commitment to properly consider those problems and how we can help. I think it is really important to honour what our Armed Forces do and give our full support.”

Joe Heffernan, president of the Northampton branch of the Royal British Legion, said: “I think this covenant is so important, with the amount of troops that are coming back from places such as Afghanistan.

“I think for us it would be good to see the army also working ahead of time more to prepare the troops when they do leave; preparing them more so they understand things like welfare or in training them for employment.

“Once they are out we take over. We are here at any time and will assist in any way we can.

“It is a big lifestyle change. We have also seen a lot of people come out who need access to treatment for post-traumatic stress and that is something else we work to provide advice and support for.

“We just want to highlight to people there is help out there if they need it.”

For further information on Northampton CAB, call Northampton call 235084 or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk

For further information about the Royal British Legion visit www.britishlegion.org.uk