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Providing a service to veterans for 100 years

By, Sergio Burns

There is a darkness ex-service personnel retreat to when lonely thoughts disrupt their lives with insomnia, flashbacks and night terrors. It’s easy to get lost, to feel hopelessness, to feel there is nowhere to turn and no one to turn to. It takes an act of bravery to confront and admit distress, but you are not alone, there are people who can help. For 100 years Combat Stress has been helping and supporting military veterans.

“May 12, 2019, will be our centenary,” Kath Provan Combat Stress Regional Fundraiser for Scotland told AM. “In the 100 days leading up to that, we’ll be sharing a small insight each day on Facebook, Twitter and our website as to how we’ve helped veterans over the century. Those we’ve supported, along with staff and supporters, will all be sharing their stories. We will have our annual fete here at Hollybush House on Saturday 15th June. Since last year we’ve been the affiliated charity of Go Festival Ayr. They’ve organised a half-marathon, a 10K and a cycling event on Saturday September 7. So, throughout the year there are lots of opportunities for people to get involved and fundraise for us. People can find out more by checking out our website: www.combatstress.org.uk, and look at all the events.”

And, of course, in checking out the website people can find out more about the services offered for veterans by the charity.

I am with Kath, Clare Armstrong,Treatment Centre Manager and Acting Regional Ops Manager, and veteran David Tomkins, who has benefited from the services provided by the charity and is now a Peer Support Volunteer. We are at the organisation’s treatment centre, Hollybush House, five miles from Ayr.

“Our founders believed that the right support and rehab for veterans is essential to overcome what was called shell shock at the time,” Clare told us. “Back then one of the ways was through therapy and work…it helped the veterans maintain their dignity, and it gave them a wage as well to support their family. A big factor… was around occupational therapy… veterans would be involved in sort of craft related tasks…. things like basket weaving, net repair, woodwork, metalwork. Then as time progressed these would be combined with more sort of therapeutic interventions from therapists and psychiatrists and nurses. So in terms of Combat Stress, veterans from Scotland were able to attend our centres in the south of England. They could also apply to the charity for grants to help them start a business, or help them until they got on their feet. Some who had a family to support received a regular allowance. In 1951 we opened our first regional office in Glasgow, and in 1985 we bought Hollybush House and transformed it from a hotel into a treatment centre for veterans.”

Over time, the organisation has evolved and now provides treatment and support to ex-service personnel experiencing mental health difficulties in their everyday life.

“Obviously,” Clare continues. “We have changed dramatically, we are (now) much more…focused on therapeutic interventions. We are part funded by Scottish Government, and we have veterans coming to us from Scotland, Northern Ireland and predominantly the north of England, but we can take veterans from all over the country if necessary.”

In the last ten years the charity has witnessed an increasing demand for its services with referrals up by a massive 97 per cent. In 2017/18 the organisation received 12,000 calls to its 24-hour helpline and more than 2000 direct referrals.

“A lot of that is down to us,” Kath commented on this increase in demand for services. “We are better at letting people know we are here. But, also the change…

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