The Ex-Services Mental Health Welfare Society is the UK’s leading military charity specialising in the care of veterans’ mental health. Since it was set up in 1919 to treat First World War ‘shell-shock’ victims, Combat Stress has provided a lifeline to veterans suffering psychological injuries as a result of their military service.
BY NIALL DEENEY
The charity currently has over 4,800 veterans in it’s care; the youngest is just 20-years-old. To date, Combat Stress has supported almost 100,000 ex-service men and women in coping with the mental impact of warfare.
Combat Stress provides a dedicated service for veterans whose mental health condition is often complex and long term. The service is not routinely available from the NHS or elsewhere.
The charity say that a small, but significant, number of veterans leave the Armed Forces with a severe psychological wound such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A symptom of PTSD is the frequent tendency to recall life-threatening incidents, which can lead to day and night terrors, mood swings, panic attacks and phobias – all of which Steve Hovarth has experienced.
Other debilitating conditions that veterans may suffer from include depression and/or anxiety disorders.
Mr Horvath is among the 4,800 veterans currently in the care of Combat Stress. He told the Sentinel why support for the organisation is so important: “There are three treatment centres in the UK. The problem is that there are so many clients coming to them and they have not got enough capacity to treat everyone.
“That is why there is so much focus on Combat Stress. The treatment they provide is not available on the NHS – why is it that a charity should be the one that has to deal with the treatment of men and women who have served their country?
“The NHS is slowly building up but they haven’t got the expertise or knowledge to deal with such a large amount of people with such a serious illness. Combat PTSD is such a difficult thing to deal with – it is different from normal PTSD.
“The charity has been stretched trying to deal with all the Falklands and Northern Ireland veterans coming through their doors. Think about Gulf one in 1990, Bosnia in 1995, Iraq and Afghanistan – 20 or 30 years down the line we are going to have the same problems all over again.
“We need local people, communities and corporations to think about giving money to Combat Stress. You also need to raise the profile.
“If you asked 100 people on the street who Combat Stress is, it is only a small handful who would know.”
Mr Horvath met 70-year-old Peter Jenkins in a sheltered accommodation complex in West Wales, instantly striking up a lasting friendship. Mr Jenkins suggested a sponsored walk to raise money for the charity ‘Combat Stress’, which had been helping his friend, the ‘Troubles’ veteran.
Chris Jarvis, a 25-year-old bookmaker and friend of Mr Jenkins, is also going to be taking part.
Their route will take the three friends from one military base, known as Castlemartin Camp, today (Saturday, September 29) to another military base, known as Cawdor Barracks, on Wednesday, October 3.
Peter and Taffy first met when they both moved into wardened sheltered housing in West Wales.
Peter has been a very active and keen walker in the past, raising funds for a number of charities and
organisations. He has previously completed 186miles of the Pembroke Coastal Path, along with
the Pennine Way and various other sponsored walk routes.
Since 2005, ‘Taffy’ has been a client of Combat Stress where he and other veterans receive help for their psychological injuries as victims of Combat PTSD.
The third member of ‘Team Taffy is a relative youngster, Chris Jarvis, who is an experienced walker having completed treks such as the ‘Inca Trail’ in Peru. He appreciates and understands the valuable work that Combat Stress do, as his grandfather was a decorated WWII Veteran, and as has witnessed the impact of war on his own family.
The three friends aim to raise as much money as they can for Combat Stress. They are appealing for sponsorship and donations from individuals, the public and corporate sectors. ‘Taffy’ explains: “There’s going to be three of us doing the walk. A chap called Peter Jenkins is going to be one of them. We live together in a war and disabled people’s complex.
“I met Peter when he moved into the place. We did a fundraising thing on the Diamond Jubilee and after that Peter approached me and said he would like to do a sponsored walk. The three of us, including another chap called Chris Jarvis – he knows Peter and he has done things like the Inca Trek in Peru, a five-day hike.
“It was originally Peter’s idea but I am the client of Combat Stress and I am the veteran, so I suppose it has become ‘my walk’ in some ways, although I think it is important for people who require the help of Combat Stress to speak out for it.
“The walk itself will be around the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in West Wales. We clocked it and it is around 70 miles – 68 to be exact. I suppose it is the equivalent of around two marathons – I am both physically and mentally disabled so it’ll be very difficult for me.
“At first I thought it was too far for me and I wasn’t going to do it, then I watched a TV programme recently called ‘Harry’s Boys’ I think it was. There were five veterans and some of them were even amputees. They were climbing mount Everest. I thought, if those chaps make a go at climbing Everest – a stubborn Welshman like me can do a 70 mile walk.
“We thought it would be appropriate to take the walk from one military base to another - Castlemartin Camp to Cawdor Barracks. I’m going to find it very difficult and I wasn’t even going to do it, until I watched that bloody programme about the five guys climbing Mount Everest, and I thought, well if those chaps can make a go at climbing Everest – a stubborn Welshman like me can do a 70 mile walk.”
Chris Jarvis, whose grandfather fought in the Second World War, has also witnessed the impact war has had on his own family. He said: “My grandfather suffered from PTSD, although it was in silence.”
Peter Jenkins added: “These good men and women, who have been in battle, come out and step into another battle – in their head.”
People can sponsor Team Taffy via by logging on to the fundraising page on the ‘Justgiving’ website at the following web link :- justgiving.com/stevetaffyhorvath.