New service to help veterans

A NEW mental health service has been launched to help the 200,000 veterans living in the north east.

The Veterans’ Wellbeing Assessment and Liaison Service (VWALS) aims to provide a single point of access for veterans who need mental health support.

It will be available to anyone who has served in the armed forces – regular or reserve – for any length of time.

One in four people can experience mental health problems in their lives, with veterans at an increased risk due to difficulties they sometimes face transferring from military to civilian life.

Richard Blackburn, from Cramlington, served in the army for six years and now works for Sun Spirit installing solar panels on people’s homes.

Then the 38-year-old left the forces in 1997, he experienced post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and struggled to adjust to civilian life.

Richard said: “When I first left the army, I felt like I couldn’t function properly – I was struggling to remember simple things, such as taking medication. I just wasn’t myself.

“I didn’t know where to start when it came to seeking help, and it took me a long time to find a service which worked for me.

“It’s really helped that my managers at work have been so supportive – they’ve even given me time off to attend appointments.

“If you have been in the forces from a young age then getting to grips with civilian life when you leave can be quite overwhelming.

“Things like paying bills or trying to find a job for the first time can be stressful enough, without the worry of not knowing who to turn to for help with a mental health issue.

“Just having one number to contact will make things much easier. I think VWALS is a fantastic idea.

“I would encourage anyone in the north east who has been in the armed forces to contact VWALS if they are worried about their mental health.”

Veterans who need help can call the service on (0191) 441 5974, Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, or email vwals@nhs.net anytime.

An outreach worker from the service will then visit the veteran in their own home to carry out an assessment to determine which local NHS services, social care organisations and charities are best placed to provide the help they need.

Andrew Drake, manager of The Royal British Legion in the North, said: “As the UK’s biggest Armed Forces charity, the Legion welcomes the launch of this much-needed service in the north east.

“It can be severely debilitating for those who experience mental health illnesses and for their families. The need to support and care for those who are vulnerable in the veteran community is vital.

“VWALS will make it easier for people to seek help and will create better health outcomes for our Armed Forces veterans.

“Streamlining the way in which veterans access mental health support will greatly contribute towards shrinking the stigma which can be associated with seeking assistance for mental health illnesses.”