Army veterans need 'more help' says former soldier

09/02/11

Steven Van Der Bank

An ex-soldier who tried to kill himself says there's not enough help for soldiers when they return to civilian life.

Steven Van Der Bank left the army after a 2005 tour of duty in Iraq but began to suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The 25-year-old says more should be done for soldiers who suffer mental illness after serving.

He also says there needs to be more advice for finding housing and jobs.

In Iraq, he had served as a mechanical engineer, attached to the 1st Battalion Staffordshire regiment.

His regiment lost 12 men, and Steven, a former Lance Corporal, said the pressures were difficult to deal with.

'Hell on earth'

Steven Van Der Bank
Image caption Steven on his honeymoon - he has got married since getting help

"You wake up in the morning and you're petrified because of what happened the day before.

"But then when you get your gear on and you're ready to go again, you're completely numb."

The 25-year-old says the experience was like "hell on earth" but it took time for him to realise how badly he'd been affected.

It didn't hit home until 2007, when he'd left the Army and his family and friends started to notice something was wrong.

He says one particular incident stands out.

"I was on bonfire night with loads of friends and when the fireworks went off I just hit the ground.

"I didn't know where I was, I was disorientated. Apart from shouting at them to get down, it took me a couple of seconds to get my bearings back."

Steven says he began "self-medicating" with alcohol to try to cope with his emotions and he eventually ended up in a hostel for the homeless.

No support

"It felt like my mind was going into a whirlwind," he says.

Fortunately Steven got help from an ex-soldier after his suicide attempt in January 2010.

What is the 'Covenant'?

    • It's an informal deal between the government and people in the military. In short, the government says 'you risk death and injury doing what we tell you to do in war zones. In return, we'll show gratitude and give you help and support where its required.' It's existed as an idea for centuries - but it's never formally been written down.
    • Now some in the armed forces say the Covenant is being stretched to breaking point. They describe a "tidal wave of low morale" caused by cuts to support and services for troops and their families.
    • The government says there is less money available as it tries to get the UK's finances under control and that it's still doing all it can to support the forces.

Jason Rathbone, who served in the first Gulf War, has helped other veterans readjust to civilian life and took Steven under his wing.

"If it wasn't for Jason Rathbone and him intervening I don't think I'd be here today," he says.

"It's like the buddy-buddy system we had in the military, it's veterans looking after veterans."

Steven's life is on the up now. He got married last year and his wife is due to give birth in a few weeks.

But he feels for other soldiers about to leave the army.

He says there's no meaningful support and that the army isn't honouring its promise to look after soldiers.

"There's nothing at all. At the time, for me, it was just, 'Thank you very much, hand in your ID card, thanks for your service, goodbye.'

"Once people know you're actually signed off and you've got the last year to serve, the military tend to look away from you.

"They don't really give you the time of day."

Steven reckons there should be help with simple things that some young soldiers may never have had to do, like paying bills and going to job interviews.

"Even if it's little bits, it's still a good stead for people who are thrown out the gates and told, 'Thank you very much, don't come again'."

Panorama: Iraq war hero 'sleeps rough' with former soldier