A NEWPORT army veteran who battled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has spoken out about his condition after successfully rebuilding his life.
Paul Harding, 54, was a Lance Corporal in the Royal Signals serving all over the world, after joining straight from school to follow in the footsteps of his father.
But when he left the army, he found himself struggling to reintegrate into society.
“I spent 14 years with the Royal Signals serving all over the world,” he said.
“But a definite turning point for me was in 1982, when I was involved in a bombing attack in a pub in Northern Ireland which killed 11 soldiers and six civilians.
“I had to crawl over dead bodies to get out, but I was very lucky – I only had cuts and bruises,” he recalled.
“But it wasn’t until I left the army that it affected me.
“The psychological damage was long lasting and had a devastating impact on my life.
“But it took three years before it dawned on me that I was ill.”
Mr Harding was just 17 when he joined the army after being inspired by his father who served in the Second World War.
“I just didn’t realise that I was ill,” he continued.
“I got angry very easily and was never content - I never knew what I was looking for.
“I had a short attention span and was always looking to replace the army.”
Mr Harding said that despite some horrific experiences, he still enjoyed ‘every minute of the army.’
On leaving the army in 1990, Mr Harding said he flitted from job to job, never settling for anything.
Initially he worked as a long distance lorry driver as he found it difficult to interact with people, and enjoyed the freedom if being on his own.
Mr Harding also worked as an electronic engineer doing aerial rigging.
“I was going to join the police and the prison service, but I backed out of both,” he said.
“When I left the army I didn’t think I had any worth.
“But to be in the prison or police service you need to be clever enough and I was, as I got accepted for all of them, but backed out,” he said.
Mr Harding admitted that he wasn’t happy and in 2011 he contemplated suicide.
Mr Harding was working for a charity ‘Healing The Wounds’ at the time and it was through this work that he was put in touch with The Poppy Factory to which he credits for recognising his needs, putting him in contact with employment company Remploy.
The specialist service which supports ex-service personnel who have left the forces with disabilities or health conditions, made Mr Harding realise that he had many transferable skills, including middle management, being a trained medic and driving instructor.
“I did a lot but thought it was useless,” he said.
“Through Remploy I was applying for a lot of jobs and wanted something that I could do that didn’t involve a lot of pressure.”
Now Mr Harding said he has overcome much of his PTSD, and works full time as a maintenance engineer at an Abergavenny care home.
“If it wasn’t for Remploy and the Poppy Factory I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
“I would say to people who were in my position –there is help out there.”
Clive Ward, Remploy’s ‘Armed Forces Champion’ at its Newport branch said: “I served in the Royal Corps of Transport for 24 years so I know what it’s like to leave the military and have to start a completely new life.
“My role is to help veterans understand that they have many skills highly sought-after by employers.
“We work out where their skills would be of most value and can organise and fund training courses as well as help write CVs and prepare candidates for interviews.”