Veterans who have suffered life changing injuries and illnesses as a result of their service are proudly serving their country again as they face a new battle in their NHS roles to defeat Coronavirus.
Four veterans, all supported by charity Help for Heroes, have spoken of the comparisons between their life in the military and life in the NHS during the pandemic. Some are helping set up and run the Nightingale hospitals, others are working as physios and in care homes, and all of them felt the “need to do something” as the country faces its toughest battle since World War Two.
Former RAF senior aircraftsman Lucy Holt, 27, of Digby, said her military training equipped her well for hew role supporting District nurses on visits to vulnerable patients. She suffered a horrific ankle injury whilst playing Netball for the RAF and has had three operations on her ankle, something which has left her with severely limited movement.
“After the surgery they thought it was fine, then the wound on the outside started to break down because it didn’t have a blood supply. I was left with a hole in my foot. They had to take the blood supply from the back of the foot to the front.”
The injury has taken its toll on Lucy, who says she has struggled with her mental health since incident.
“It’s affected my well being – I was crying all the time. It’s had a massive impact because I’m not able to do the stuff I love. I’m not able to run around with my five-year-old, which has been tough.”
As a result of her injuries, Lucy was medically discharged and now works for Lincolnshire Community Health Service covering two district nursing teams.
“I am leading a team of five, on a daily basis we are taking medical supply to our nursing homes and patients as well as supporting the District nursing in the community on their visits.
“When seeing our patients we are in full PPE but it’s very worrying knowing that we can be potential taking it back to our families. As a team we are working well supporting each other as best as we can, at times it is hard to keep moral high, but we are pulling together.”
Former warrant officer second class Mark “Lofty” Taylor, now an NHS volunteer and Help for Heroes Ambassador, was instrumental in turning London’s Excel exhibition centre into the country’s first Nightingale Hospital. Lofty, whose experiences in Iraq 2004 left him with
PTSD, said running the new 1,000 bed hospital was like a tour of duty with strong camaraderie amongst those working and volunteering there.
“It was like the chaos of war. If you imagine trying to mobilise and supply thousands of troops in the battlefield, it takes time.”
Speaking of his motivation to help, he said:
“It’s that selfless commitment that is instilled in everybody that served this country. You have to serve. Veterans are so well-placed to deal with things like this. There’s that selflessness, resilience and determination you get from serving that never leaves you
“We are fighting with the same goal, to defeat this horrible virus. It is a war we will win.”
Gavin Lewis, 48, had served for 12 years with the Royal Regiment of Wales. Following a tour in Hong Kong, he was deployed on active service with the Royal Hampshire Regiment to Northern Ireland on 20th September 1990. The date is one Gavin now realises was a key moment in his life, as his experiences led to him suffering from PTSD, blackouts, seizures, drinking to excess and eventually, he says, caused the breakdown of his marriage and homelessness four years ago.
Thanks to Help for Heroes support, he is now focusing on the day-job in the Operating Department of the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend, where he’s a theatre support worker.
“Every day we ‘don’ and ‘dof’ our PPE at the start of the shift; masks, goggles respirators, getting ready to do our jobs, supporting the surgeons in theatre. Lots of the patients have Covid.”
It’s a difficult environment to work in, but one Gavin trained for. He said: “I pledged an oath to the Queen, and I feel honoured to be able to still serve my country,” he says.
NHS physio and Team UK Vice Captain Kelly Leonard is currently doing respiratory training to cover the non-ventilated COVID-19 patients. Kelly, a former RAF physical training instructor, had a motorbike accident in July 2000 which almost led to her having her foot amputated. The injury has left the mother-of-three with arthritis in her ankle and needing to use crutches on bad days.
Rather than ‘wallowing’ in her problems, she created a new focus by retraining as a children’s physiotherapist – qualifying in 2006. As of April 1st, she became team lead for physio for her health trust. She’s the only military trained person in her team and said “it’s about creating a routine from the start, being level headed and pulling up your sleeves.” As a former military person she is used to facing adversity.
“We are working very long hours but my military training has given me the right personality and skills to take on responsibility. I understand the huge value of camaraderie and humour as a way of bringing and keeping the team together. I’m working very hard to keep the channels of communication open.”
Mel Waters, CEO of Help for Heroes, said:
“By stepping up to serve their country once again, this time in the nation’s fight against coronavirus, our wounded Veterans and their
families are showing huge strength once more in the face of adversity. The nation’s keyworkers are all heroes, and we are so proud of our Veterans who are doing their bit to help the NHS in these extraordinary times”.