What Matters to Veterans: Alan’s Story

As part of our most recent report focussing on what matters to veterans in Essex, one participant shared his first experience of visiting a civilian GP surgery after leaving the military. It provides an insight into how he was left feeling, the issues he faced throughout and what could be improved through the understanding of how to engage with a veteran. Alan’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

“Well, I’d say my first ever experience of visiting a GP post-service was absolutely awful. I was nervous, anxious and frightened of civvy street when I first got medically discharged. I went to my GP surgery and there was a banner saying the patient’s name and what room to go to and it beeped. So, it said my name (Alan Smith) and room 24 and this GP just looked into the waiting room, had never met me before and shouted ‘SMITH’! I thought, who the hell are you calling SMITH? I distrusted him immediately. I thought to myself, I’m a Mr now, the most important rank in the world, don’t call me ‘SMITH’. That was something I had when I was in training as a new recruit or as a private soldier.

So he walked in, I followed him into his practice and then sat down and I noticed a clock above my head. He didn’t look at me, didn’t give me any eye contact at all, just said, ‘so what can I do for you?’ My head went straight down, I crossed my arms and I said, ‘I don’t know, you’re the professional you tell me.’ I thought ‘you’re rude’ – there was hate towards me. His body language was completely off. We, as veterans, are really distrusting and we read people’s body language instantly – their smile, their eyebrows, everything. He said, ‘well I cannot help you if you don’t tell me.’

So I said, ‘well, have you read my notes?’ He said, ‘no’, so I said, ‘well, you are wasting my time then.’ I walked out and my face must have been an absolute picture. My wife said, ‘what’s the matter?’ I said, ‘I’m not seeing that absolute idiot again, what an oxygen thief!’ I called him a few other words in the car on the way home; I was absolutely furious.

The next day I’d calmed down slightly and phoned the practice manager and asked to see a different GP, explaining my circumstances. They said, ‘that’s no problem, come in tomorrow because you’ve just been medically discharged so, this is your new practice you can have your medical.’ So I went in and I saw this new doctor, excellent guy, he said, ‘come in Sir, come and sit down, how can I help you? What can I do?’

I said, ‘that clock makes me nervous so why have you got to sit me where a doors not by my side? Why can’t I sit in the corner so I can see my entries and exits?’ He said, ‘give me a little bit of history about yourself.’ I went through my time in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Croatia, my last tour in Afghan before I got medically discharged. He smiled at me, listened, showed understanding and I learned an awful lot from him.”