Ex-Welsh Guards call for veterans' treatment centre in Wales
10:51am Tuesday 27th August 2013 in Gwent news
Ex-soldiers ready for the 870 mile Walk on Wales trek which will raise a Ã �Â£1million for a centre to help war veterans pictured at Newport Transporter Bridge
A GROUP of war heroes marched through Newport yesterday and called for a Welsh centre providing specialist help for traumatised servicemen and women.
The veterans say it is a disgrace that Wales does not have its own specialist centre to treat casualties of war and they want to make Wales a country fit for our heroes.
Paul Conlon, from High Cross near Newport, led a group of ex-servicemen from Cardiff to Newport yesterday (Mon) in the first leg of a fundraising walk around Wales.
Walk on Wales, an 870-mile trek along the Wales Coastal Path, is scheduled to finish by November.
Mr Conlon served for 11 years around the world including the Falklands after joining the army when he was 16 and rising to the rank of sergeant before leaving in 1990.
He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder two decades after returning home, but had to travel to a specialist centre in Shropshire to receive the diagnosis.
Mr Conlon, said: “It’s a disgrace, of course it is. We should have our own centre here in Wales for ex-servicemen to be able to speak to someone about it, because that’s the important thing, to get things off your chest and to be able to speak to people who know what you’ve been through.
“It’s a three-and-a-half hour drive up to Shropshire, and that isn’t right.
“For the first 20 years I thought it was just me, that it was my problem. But I was actually speaking to a friend of mine at a [Newport Gwent] Dragons game, and he told me that I wasn’t looking too good.
“At the time, I couldn’t go into a room without having my back against the wall. I’d check where the fire exits were whenever I’d enter a room. I found it very hard to switch off.
“I had night sweats, nightmares, and only slept three hours a night for years.
“I have friends that have committed suicide, and have turned to alcohol and pills. I look at myself and I’m glad that I’ve sorted myself out. This is my way of giving something back.”
The walk aims to raise £1m for the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal and Combat Stress, the UK’s leading military charity specialising in the care of veterans’ mental health, and has already raised £180,000.
Last year, more British soldiers and veterans took their own lives than died in the fighting in Afghanistan over the same period.
Participants will also carry a silver baton, inscribed with the names of the 50 Welsh Guardsmen who have lost their lives in armed conflict since the Second World War.
Derry Price, 52, of Pontypool, served in the Falklands alongside Andy Hunter from Newport.
Mr Price said: “People forget that there are 400,000 military families in Wales.
“It’s always important to support veterans in need. They deserve better and that’s why we’re all doing this, it’s to support each other.
“All my family are military. I think it’s something that runs in the families.
“You always have a special place for your regiment. It’s been 30 years now since I started and we all still keep in touch.”
Mr Hunter, 50, said: “This is us just giving something back. We didn’t get any support when we came back.
“There’s more publicity for the problems soldiers have when they get home now, and what we’re doing here is raising awareness.”
Mr Hunter’s partner, Penelope Pitt, is also walking the first leg of Walk on Wales. She said: “I think it’s good to do something for soldiers in Wales. There doesn’t seem to be the same awareness in this country.
“I think there’s a high population of Welsh Guards here as well. Help for Heroes does a lot of work of its work in England but there doesn’t seem to be any high-profile ones in Wales.”
On each sections of the walk, the veterans will also be joined a handful of soldiers currently serving for the Welsh Guards.
Ben Jackson, Joseph Prigg, and Craig Godsall, who are all 21 and from Newport, have joined the team on their first leg.
Mr Jackson, who has spent seven months in Afghanistan, said: “When you finish, the army just shafts you. But I would definitely go back. It’s just the buzz of being out there with your friends.”
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