‘I feel like me again’ - troubled Army vets are helping fix driver shortage - article for the BBC
This article by Lucy Wallis is a very sad reflection on how badly Army veterans are treated after they leave active service.
Some UK veterans can face difficulties finding employment when returning to civilian life, but one ex-soldier wants to help them get back in the driving seat.
"Take your time, compose yourself, check your mirrors."
Darren Wright is training a new recruit to become an HGV driver. Many of the people that sit alongside him have something in common - they are all ex-military. The 46-year-old has been running Veterans into Logistics, a not-for-profit organisation in Greater Manchester, for 19 months.
"We get veterans who are struggling to find employment," he says. "We reach out to them, we put our [arms] around them and we support them into becoming HGV drivers."
Government figures published in 2017 show that of 952,000 veterans of working age, 28,000 were unemployed.
Darren says there is a lack of support for those who leave the armed forces without a trade or skill. Many he encounters are battling with low confidence or have mental health problems.
"They put a lot of trust in me," he says. "I can talk to them and go, 'Listen mate, I've been there, I know what it's like, but trust me, let's get you trained up, let's get you a job.'"
Growing up on a council estate in north Manchester, Darren left school without any qualifications or many prospects. He joined the Army at 23 and served as a gunner and paratrooper in 21 Battery, 47 Regiment, Royal Artillery for five years. He did a tour of Afghanistan and was discharged in 2004 suffering undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Returning to civilian life was difficult. "I was all over the place," he says "I was taking drugs and alcohol. I was in a bad way, a really bad way at the time. My marriage broke down. I became homeless. I was sofa surfing. I didn't want to be here."
He says his life spiralled even further out of control when he became involved in a gangland kidnapping in 2006.
Watch We are England: Veterans Road to Recovery on BBC iPlayer.
If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this story, support and advice is available via the BBC Action Line.
"Looking back to myself then, I wasn't well. I wasn't mentally right. Obviously I wouldn't do that now, and if I would have been a normal person, I wouldn't have done it then. My life was just a mess," says Darren.
"I regret the kidnap and the harm that it caused him and his family and I received over 11 years."
While in prison, Darren's PTSD was diagnosed and he received treatment, which changed his life. "I came out like me, I wanted to live, I wanted my life," he says.
He used his HGV licence, which he got in the Army, to earn an income and became a fuel tanker driver. It gave him structure, stability and financial security, as well as a purpose in life. Darren realised he wanted to do more to help other veterans after attending the funeral of a close friend who had taken his own life within a year of leaving the Army.
For the full article in pdf, please click here:
Darren Wright and Daniel Birch