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Help for Heroes survey reveals wounded veterans face health worries during Covid-19 pandemic

A survey of 1310 wounded veterans, service personnel and families by Help for Heroes reveals a significant impact of lockdown on mental and physical health with 40% of respondents reported having experienced a delay in accessing NHS treatments and services

Help for Heroes Community Recovery team in Wales & Hereford is providing specialist support to mitigate the long-term impacts of necessarily delayed treatments, including offering health coaching, delivering online therapy sessions and virtual gatherings for wounded veterans

A new survey by military charity Help for Heroes has revealed the true cost of Covid-19 on wounded veterans, service personnel, and their families with 40 percent of those living with life-changing injuries or health conditions saying they have experienced a delay in accessing NHS services or treatment during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The survey, which took place in May 2020, was completed by wounded veterans, service personnel, and their families to enable the charity to understand how their support needs may change in the future. The survey also showed the impact this time has had on veterans’ and service personnel’s mental and physical health with a 50% increase in those saying they are not managing their mental health well compared to before the pandemic started and a 48% increase in those not managing their physical health.

The unavoidable delay to NHS services has been costly with nearly two-thirds of those affected (64%) saying the delay in accessing NHS treatment and services impacted negatively on their mental health and more than half (59%) said it negatively affected their physical health. Furthermore, 34% said they were concerned about being able to access the NHS once the pandemic eases. Help for Heroes’ Veterans Clinical Liaison team have been reassuring those they support to follow NHS advice that medical help should be sought after if needed, especially for serious, acute conditions.

Newly developed health coaching within Help for Heroes services empowers wounded veterans to gain the knowledge, skills, tools, and confidence to take ownership of their health goals, actively participate in their own care and increase engagement with treatment services when they become available. Throughout the pandemic, the charity has continued to provide specialist clinical advice and support to the UK’s most seriously injured veterans and financial grants to those with urgent care needs.

In Wales and Hereford, a dedicated team of Case Managers and a Veterans’ Clinical Liaison Nurse are providing adapted support via remote methods such as phone and video consultations. Community Recovery Manager Shelley Elgin said, “We encourage any wounded or ill Armed Forces personnel or veteran to contact the team to see what help we can offer, either through our adapted support or by signposting to our partner agencies.”

Tim Penney is Help for Heroes’ Veterans Clinical Liaison for the region.  After qualifying as a nurse while he was in the Army, he was commissioned in 1993. Tim served for 37 years and left the Army in January 2017.

Having served in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Rwanda, Tim has a great deal of operational experience of providing medical support to military personnel in the battlefield.

As he faced the challenges of transitioning out of the military environment himself, Tim can empathize with his clients and the difficulties they can face adapting to life on Civvy Street.

Tim find his role incredibly rewarding, especially during the current crisis, which is challenging for many of the charity’s beneficiaries, “Being able to make a real difference in someone’s life and recovery, when they felt that everything has been against them, it’s hugely satisfying, knowing you’ve made a difference.”

The survey, completed by 1,310 veterans, service personnel, and family members, also revealed that :

Nearly half (47%) of those who experienced delays to NHS services or treatment said they avoided seeking medical help due to anxiety caused by Covid-19;

39% said the pandemic has had a negative impact on their relationship with loved ones while 15% say the impact on relationships had been positive;

The three hardest parts of the experience of lockdown were revealed as concerns about mental health worsening (57%), difficulty sleeping (42%) and living with general anxiety (41%) and

The three biggest concerns for the future are managing mental health effectively (65%), managing physical health (39%) and being able to deal with setbacks and change (36%)

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Help for Heroes is still ‘open’, delivering critical support to wounded veterans and their families across Wales and Hereford through specially adapted services. Hidden Wounds therapy sessions are being successfully delivered by phone and video conference and also delivering online sleep management support. Virtual coffee mornings and the development of online sports and physical wellbeing activity schedule is aimed toward motivating and engaging veterans and families.

Additionally, last year the charity successfully piloted the UK’s first Recovery College specifically for wounded veterans and families, with the College launching later this year. All educational courses have been created in partnership with wounded veterans and family members and will enable students to manage their own recovery journey. Some of the courses have been adapted so they can be delivered virtually as well as face to face whilst the pandemic is ongoing.

However, the charity is also facing a serious, unprecedented threat to income as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. Help for Heroes relies on the public for 97% of its’ income, and with most fundraising activities and events either cancelled or on hold, this has fallen with the charity expected to lose out on 40% of its’ projected income this year.

Shelley Elgin, added “We are committed to responding to the needs of veterans, latest government guidance and are working closely with valued partners including the NHS during these uncertain times. We are still providing high-quality support and championing the needs of all those who are coping with injury and chronic health conditions during the pandemic, to ensure they get the fair deal they deserve.

“It is clear from our survey that veterans with physical and mental health needs are finding recent events challenging and need us as much as ever. The fundraising climate for charities is extremely tough but together we will show our veterans and their families we are still here for them. Right now, we need your support more than ever to keep our services running for those who have given us, and our nation, they’re all.”

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