What Matters to Veterans: Jim’s Story

As part of our report looking at the experiences of veterans living in Essex, we are sharing Jim’s story. Jim’s name has been changed to protect his identity. His story highlights the clear link between physical and mental health and the consequences of that link not being made in service personnel.

“In 1982, we were out when the pilot did something to the aircraft which he shouldn’t have done, and we crashed. I suffered life-threatening injuries; I won’t go into detail but I was admitted into civilian hospital. They gave me great service, looked after me well and after a period of time being there, I was then transferred to a military hospital. I was left in a corridor, freezing cold, in winter with just a blanket on me. Nobody cared who I was, I was just left in the corridor for what seemed like, forever and a day. I then remember getting moved into a ward and I was in hospital for several weeks.

I was discharged from hospital and basically, was reassessed medically for flying. I was told I was okay to fly but during that period (we are now in 1983-1985) I had lots of questions: what happened in the crash? Why did it crash? Medically, I needed help, but nobody was helping me. I was having problems physically and mentally which I now recognise, I didn’t recognise it then. I didn’t know; I just thought it was all normal. I spoke to my medical officer a couple of years after, I said, “Look. I can’t do this anymore, I’m frightened, I’m disoriented when I’m flying. I’m just anxious”.

I now see that I was withdrawn, I lost a lot of friends in that time, I hadn’t realised it, but I was drinking a lot. Now I see it, I was then married but my wife left me. I had a child but I became violent and I didn’t realise it. I was reaching out; I was asking people for help and nobody was helping me. We were due to go flying down to the Spanish Alps with a load of aircrafts and I was to be the lead aircraft. I was good at my job. I say that now because I was the lead navigator, co-pilot for the whole squadron. So, we had 12 aircrafts and, if we were flying anywhere, I was in the lead all the time. Everybody followed me if you know what I mean? I said, “Look. I can’t do this anymore.”

 I was then moved to another unit within Germany and given the job of what they call ‘POL’ (Petrol, oil and lubricants operator). I was responsible for ensuring that the unit had its daily sufficient supply of fuel for all its vehicles. It was just doing my head in, I was highly qualified in my previous job in the artillery, highly qualified as navigator, gunner, pilot, all these things. My medical health wasn’t very good, so I had to reinvent myself within that unit that I was then stationed at, so I reverted back to one of my old qualifications, radio communications.

Then, towards the mid-80s, I decided that I couldn’t cope with the service anymore. My career, as far as I was concerned, wasn’t going where I wanted it to go, I was finished. I had no friends; people didn’t like me. A lot of people didn’t like me because I expected too much of them, I had very high standards, which I now see was perhaps part of this horrible thing called PTSD which I didn’t know about at the time. When I asked for help, nobody helped me, but I experienced mood changes, anxiety, aggression, it was unreal.

I couldn’t tolerate people; I couldn’t tolerate their poor standards which I never used to be like. Nobody’s perfect but I expected perfection of everybody. So, I left the services early. I didn’t used to get good reviews towards the end of my career. Comments such as, outspoken, highly critical, those sorts of things, whereas before my accident, I used to get raving reviews and I was offered more training to pursue. At the end, it was quite the opposite, the Commanding Officer called when I was leaving and just said, “Right. Cheerio. Thanks a lot.” Job done, that was basically it – my army career was over after 17 and a half, 18 years.

It’s been a huge lightbulb moment for me about the events that have happened to me injury-wise and how I behave; what I’m suffering with on a daily basis and why I’m behaving the way I do. What would have helped me would have been a medical officer sitting down and talking to me, assessing me for what is going in my head. There are two parts, what’s going on in my head and then physically what’s going wrong with my body.”