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The connectors - Helps Former Armed Forces

The connectors - Helps Former Armed Forces

COVER STORY

11 Jan, 2019

Veterans’ Gateway is a 24-hour service that helps former Armed Forces personnel to navigate their new lives as civilians. But who are the people at the end of the phone line and what is their own experience of resettlement?

As the first point of contact for Veterans seeking support, the aim of Veterans’ Gateway is to put both them and their families in touch with the organisations best placed to help with the information, advice and support they need – from healthcare and housing to employability, finances, personal relationships and more. Designed to offer a one-stop shop, it has dealt with tens of thousands of enquiries and hundreds of thousands of website users since itslaunch in June 2017, with the majority of users requesting advice on finance.

The 24-hour service is delivered by a Royal British Legion-led consortium with Poppyscotland, Combat Stress, Connect Assist, the Ministry of Defence and SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity. With requests coming from as far afield as Thailand, South Africa and St Maarten in the Caribbean, it caters to Veterans of all ages and backgrounds; 81% of users are under 65 years old and 56% of web visitors access the site via mobile phones.

It’s an impressive and far-reaching operation, yet just 12 staff from Connect Assist man the £2 million project from an office near Cardiff. Their role is to be the initial voice to those needing help and support. They’re the first point of contact, directing housing, financial and welfare issues to specialist charities and organisations.

Veterans can get in touch via a 24-hour online chat, phone and text service. Among the specially trained operators providing help and guidance are a number of Veterans who are using their own knowledge of transitioning from Service life to civvy street to help others …

Callee Andrew (team supervisor), Royal Navy Veteran

Callee Andrew

Aged 17, Callee joined the Royal Navy as the last class of Operator Mechanic. During her time serving on-board HMS Manchester, Callee went on many operational deployments, including time spent in the Gulf on anti-piracy/anti-narcotic operations and down the Falklands as a petrol vessel maintaining sovereign presence. Callee’s husband is currently still serving in the Royal Navy as a Petty Officer, so she maintains a high level of knowledge and understanding of the Royal Navy.

Callee says: ‘We are geared to help the Veteran community with any issues and direct them to the right place. Often, new issues and underlying problems come to light as we are chatting to Veterans. We are here to help and give them the best options available, and many find it very reassuring to speak to someone who knows about Forces life and the places they have served in.’

Kath Carter (helpline adviser), Army spouse

Kath Carter

Kath became an Army wife at the age of 18. She has experienced the transition to civilian life and knows how difficult it can be. Kath has previously had support from Help for Heroes in a previous relationship with a Veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. Kath is still involved with Help for Heroes as a volunteer coordinator and can often be seen at local events raising awareness in regards to support for Veterans. Kath also attended the Invictus Games in Florida in 2016, where she met some incredible and inspirational people. 

Says Kath: ‘I wish Veterans’ Gateway had been around when I needed help years ago. I know how it feels to support someone who is having difficulties so can relate to partners, wives and family when they call us. Being able to help and support Veterans that don’t know they can get help (and where to find it) is such an honour. It can be hard to open up to people about your circumstances, but as a team we have experienced it, and I think that helps when we offer advice and support.’

Chris Thomas (helpline adviser), ex-RAF

Chris Thomas

Chris joined the Royal Air Force in 1985. He worked on several squadrons, from rapier surface and air missiles to field squadron. He served almost 10 years before being medically discharged with post-traumatic stress disorder. This was a result of being involved in the Gulf War during 1990 and 1991. Chris had treatment from the RAF medical team for his PTSD. However, it took him a long time to be able to settle back into civilian life.

Chris says: ‘I have been in the same position as the majority of people who are calling us here at Veterans’ Gateway, so I can call on my personal experiences to be able to point them in the right direction for the best help. There are so many charities out there it does help when you are directed to the best one for your issue.’

Paul Mathias (helpline adviser), Army Veteran

Paul Mathias

Paul joined the Army in 1986 as a Gunner in the Royal Artillery. He worked on Light Guns before moving into Air Defence. Paul did five tours of Northern Ireland, and also served in Germany, Cyprus, Norway, Belize, Iraq and various other countries while on exercises. He left the Army in 2005, and joined the MoD Police as a security officer. Paul then joined a Super League rugby team as a coach and also worked behind the scenes with Wales Rugby League. He was diagnosed with PTSD and has received treatment through NHS Wales and Combat Stress. 

Says Paul: ‘I have been through the transition process myself and relied on the support of Combat Stress. I wanted to work on Veterans’ Gateway to give back the help I had to others. There are so many Veterans out there that need our support. Making that initial call is the hardest call you have to make as your pride deters you from showing weakness or vulnerability. You feel you are letting your comrades down – but things get a lot better when you acknowledge the issues.’

Who has been helped?

Ivor Thomas and Jacquelyn Theresa Pellowe are just two of the Veterans already assisted by Veterans’ Gateway. Here they tell us how the service assisted them with their transition …

Ivor Thomas, connected to X-Forces

Ivor joined the Army in 1979 and served in the REME as a mechanic. He was later medically discharged due to ill health and found it difficult to get back into work. While at the JobCentre he heard about Veterans’ Gateway. ‘I found the Veterans’ Gateway website very quick and easy to use,’ he says. ‘I navigated my way to the self-employment pages and got in touch with X-Forces Enterprise, where I received support straight away.’

Through regular mentoring, training and start-up help, Ivor went on to set up his own business. ‘I would wholeheartedly recommend Veterans’ Gateway to fellow Veterans for all types of support. There’s so much out there and it’s easy to access. Starting this new journey was simple and motivational due to the regular contact I received. I would encourage any Veteran to use it.’

Jacquelyn Theresa Pellowe, connected to The Poppy Factory

Jacquelyn served in the British Army for 16 years, finally ending her career in the Adjutant General’s Corps (AGC).

‘Last year, I was made redundant,’ she tells us, ‘and a friend recommended Veteran’s Gateway to me. As a disabled Veteran I was put in touch with The Poppy Factory. They gave me up-to-date and comprehensive employment advice and it was thanks to this that I was able to get a job working for the NHS.

‘I think, no matter what challenges you face as a Veteran, Veteran’s Gateway is definitely the best starting point for accessing the right help.’

FIND OUT MORE

For more information on Veterans’ Gateway, or if you are in need of support, call 0808 802 1212, text 81212 or visit www.veteransgateway.org.uk

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