Wales and the Armed Forces have a very special relationship. For the Army in particular, Wales is haloed ground, they recruit here and train on the Welsh mountains, writes Donna Gavin.
It’s in Brecon I discovered how leadership can inspire people to do incredible things even when wet, cold and tired. I learnt how to unite a team behind a mission and that “can’t” isn’t a word. There are over 140,000 Armed Forces veterans living in Wales, proportionally high, yet there is less support here than elsewhere in the UK. I want to do my bit in making the UK the greatest place in the world to be a veteran. One where veterans don’t feel alone, instead feel connected to our communities and know that help is there should they need it. With this in mind, I believe that Wales is vital ground in the fight for veteran support.
Service life is like no other, I spent 10 years without a place to call home. Serving was the greatest privilege of my life and has shaped so much about my values and who I am, but it does take its toll. For a decade, when the Army said jump, I said how high and in return they housed me, fed me, educated me and removed all kinds of routine friction from my life. It’s quite normal to have never paid a bill and not to know how much a big shop costs. I’m also part of the Afghanistan generation, one of the lucky ones to have lived to tell the tale. Not the case for my forever twenty something friends, who will never grey and wrinkle like me. These sacrifices are unique to service life and we as a society have a responsibility to put an arm around each and every veteran when they leave.
The Armed Forces is the most incredible organisation, with world class training and leadership running through the veins of those that serve. Yet many veterans are still unemployed 18months after leaving service. A worrying percentage of homeless people have served, and many men and women struggle to deal with the trauma they experience, with little support locally that can understand the uniqueness of the fog of war. Indoctrination is hard to kick, adjusting to the outside world is a difficult journey and can be a very lonely place.
Having never paid a bill, struggling to deal with the loss of friends and trauma of conflict, many veterans arrive back into the reality of “civi street”, vulnerable and unprepared. An odd place where ‘colleagues’ ‘check in’, yet friends are far away. There are charities there to lean on, yet finding them can be like navigating a wilderness, too often veterans don’t know where to begin and by our nature, don’t like asking for help.
Getting this right is not about the data, it’s a feeling. Governments are great at defining metrics and hitting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), but I want us to be more than that, I want our veterans to feel supported. I have welcomed the announcement of the Veterans’ Commissioner for Wales, I have faith they will be the voice of the veteran in Wales, raising concerns and keeping the Government focused and accountable. I just hope we keep some heart in the system. We all have a role to play in society, so, I urge everyone to ask their Senedd Candidates what they will do to contribute to making the UK the greatest place in the world to be a veteran. We owe it to those that have given so much.
Donna Gavin is a veteran and the Welsh Conservative Candidate for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney