The most common question we get: How do we differ?

The Veterans Charity was originally set up in 2008 under the name ‘PROJECT 65’. Our aim was to create a unique and lasting memorial at Pegasus Bridge in Normandy. The idea was to raise £70,000 to build the memorial and to unveil it on the 65th anniversary of D-Day in 2009. We did this by staging a huge sponsored run which followed the route that the gliders took on D-Day to get to the bridge. The run went from Tarrant Rushton in Dorset, through the New Forest and onto a Brittany Ferry at Portsmouth. After the 6 hour sailing to Ouistreham, the runners ran the final 3 miles to finish on Pegasus Bridge at exactly 00:16, 6th June – precisely 65 years to the minute since No.1 Glider landed beside the bridge.

The route was 65 miles in length, hence PROJECT 65. The event was a tremendous success! More than 160 amazing people took part and help us to raise almost £250,000!

The memorial was unveiled by the then CGS, General Sir Richard Dannatt, in front of the world’s media and the balance of the monies raised was given to 6 carefully chosen organisations which provide support to those who have served; RBL, BLESMA, St Dunstan’s, RAFBF, ABF and Help for Heroes.

During the 3 years it took to plan and implement such a huge undertaking, many other ideas were formed for new events and fundraising initiatives. We were also meeting and speaking to a huge number of service personnel and ex-forces members. We listened.

It began to become very apparent that there were gaps in the ‘system’. The military charity community performs amazing tasks and there is a huge amount of work done by a relatively small number of people but, with more than 5 million Veterans in the UK, it is just not possible to cover everyone all the time. Each charity has it’s own aims and focus. We needed ours……

We were hearing an increasing number of cases where Veterans were finding it very challenging to obtain the most basic items. Again and again we were finding cases of men and women going without clothing, basic household items, furniture and even food. There are several avenues open to get help but with the growing and already huge demands being placed on the welfare system and charities in general, the wait seems ever longer. The smallest items can often have a very big impact on the life of an individual if it is delivered at the right time. We have found cases where individuals have waited more than 2 months for a very small grant for clothing and even one case of a woman waiting 2 years for a wheelchair!

We began to provide direct support late in 2010. A few cases here and there, where funding and resources allowed. Among our first cases was that of a D-Day Veteran who’s mobility scooter had been stolen and destroyed meaning that he was house bound and without the vital independence most of us take for granted. He was unable to afford to replace the scooter himself and his insurance wouldn’t cover the loss. We sourced a replacement scooter from a local supplier and drove to Wales just 3 days later to present the scooter to him. He was overwhelmed and simply said “you’ve given me back the independence and freedom I fought for”. Such powerful words resounded through us all and we realised just how big an impact such a small gesture can make.

Our work has evolved an enormous amount during the last 2 years and we now focus on providing what we call ‘modest provisions’ but in the shortest possible time.

We have provided clothing, food, furniture and household items, IT equipment, work clothing and tools, mobility equipment, camping gear, bicycles and even TVs and mobile phones. These are all basic items and small luxuries that we all have and take very much for granted. Imagine not having a TV or not being able to keep in touch with family and friends who are away from you. Many Veterans find themselves having to start again in a new home. Buying basic furniture and kitchen items is a very expensive issue, especially if you are forced to live on benefits or a very low income.

The impact that our support can have on the mental wellbeing of a Veteran is at times almost immeasurable. One case is 56 year old ‘Derek’, a former soldier who has found life after serving increasingly challenging and has battled depression and PTSD for many years. He had become totally dependent on sleeping tablets. Derek was finding the cost of travelling impossible to meet. He asked if The Veterans Charity could help him with funding to buy a push bike so that he could do the journey to college each day, where he was learning new skills and re-training for work. We bought Derek a brand new mountain bike knowing that exercise would be great for him as well as the obvious travel benefits.

We were thrilled to learn that 4 weeks later, Derek was getting home tired but happy. His health had improved a great deal and he hadn’t needed a single sleeping tablet in a month! He was attacking each day with a great deal more enthusiasm and even formed a cycling club with a few friends from the college, who we had also helped with bikes. All this for less than £150!

We are a very small charity which relies entirely on the generosity of public donations and our own fundraising events. Our aims are of course to grow and increase our funding. Our ONLY limitation to providing more support is money. The more we have, the more support we can give.

Our overheads are minimal and we strive to keep them that way. Our average case expenditure is just £220 but by using carefully selected suppliers and heavily negotiated prices we can make such a small amount go a very long way………

If you would like to support a charity where you know your money will make a real impact, please go to www.justgiving.com/theveteranscharity and create a fundraising page for a challenge or event. Every pound raised will make a difference to our Veterans.

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The benefit of a welfare system?

During the last 6-9 months we have had the honour of getting to know dozens of Veterans, from all generations and conflicts, each one with their own story to tell. Many however have one thing in common; they are all forced to live on benefits due to ill health, mental or physical.

These are men and women who have served their country and have found life after leaving the Armed Forces very challenging. Many have experienced relationship or marriage difficulties, hardship, unemployment and even homelessness. Mental health is a particularly common problem!

Most of those we have supported in recent months are finding life extremely challenging and are struggling to cope with their daily battle to move forward with their lives.

Thankfully, in the UK, we have a welfare system which has been designed to provide the vital support needed by those who are finding things difficult and unable to work due to health problems. Or do we?

The majority of those we have helped in the past few months are finding it almost impossible to live adequately on the benefits they are given. We have several cases that are having to go without FOOD for a period of up to 5 days, EVERY two weeks! Their benefits simply do not cover the ever increasing cost of food, utilities, accommodation or travel. How can this be? Are they wasting money? The simple answer is no. We have been through the finances of several Veterans and there is simply no way that an individual can survive on the amount of money they are receiving.

There has been a great deal of attention on reducing the number of people living in poverty in recent years. We are constantly being told that great success is being achieved in many communities but we are finding numerous cases of people living in poverty, unable to feed themsleves adequately let alone by new clothes or equipment/furniture for their homes.

The situation for many is being compounded by the new measures to tackle benefit fraud. We have met several Veterans who have been summoned to their local DWP office for an ‘assessment’ to assess their suitability to work. These assessments have consisted of little more than 3 or 4 simple exercises and a few questions. It does not seem to take mental health into account at all.

One case is Mr R, a former RLC mechanic who suffers from PTSD and anxiety. Whilst generally he is physically fit, his mental health problems cause him considerable difficulties every day. After attending a return to work assessment, he was certified as fit to work and his ESA payments were postponed. Upon protesting he was told he could appeal the decision but it would take a ‘few weeks’ to resolve the issue and re-start his payments. If he found it difficult in the meantime he could apply for a crisis loan. He was told that the person conducting the assessment held no qualifications or had any experience of mental health issues!

After eventually resolving the issue, Mr R has recently been told he has another pending assessment……

Another case is that of Mr S, a former Household Cavalry soldier who has an almost weekly battle with his DWP office to be paid the benefits he is entitled to. Again and again he is told that a ‘payment will be made to you this week’ only to find that it has not materialised in his bank and when enquiring, the answer is always ‘next week’. This is an appalling situation for anyone suffering mental health issues to be put in but when it is happening to people who have risked life and limb for their country it is simply unacceptable.

There are those out there who choose to defraud the benefit system and yes, it will obviously have an effect on the efficiency of the system as a whole but it is NOT an excuse to make things difficult for those who genuinely need and deserve it’s help.

The problem is so great that we are in the process of creating ‘ration boxes’ of food basics to help those who are struggling to get through until they are in receipt of their next payment and can once again buy food. Each box will contain simple essentials like rice, pasta, tins of curry and vegetables, tea, coffee and chocolate. These will be sent by overnight mail to ensure that they reach those in need as soon as possible. They will also be sent in large quantities to various locations around the UK including housing projects and specialist training colleges that deal with large numbers of Veterans who may be facing financial difficulty.

Welfare system? For some perhaps but many of our Veterans are not faring so well…………

If you know of a Veteran who is finding it difficult to cope, please let us know!

 

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