A Scottish veteran whose injuries drastically deteriorated after he left the Army has praised the charity Help for Heroes for its commitment to support veterans for life.
David Dent, 49, who now uses a wheelchair after suffering two injuries while serving as a front-line trauma specialist with the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC), said he is the epitome of why veterans will need ongoing help in the future.
“I thought I was nearly injury free when I came out of the Army but that did not prove to be the case. There will be a lot more people like me out there, who in 10 or 15 years’ time, find they need support when they have come out of service.”
David said Help for Heroes has been there for him in numerous ways from finding a purpose through Sports Recovery, a £5,000 grant to adapt his home to his needs, becoming a member of Band of Brothers, which provides life-long support to those with a career limiting/ending injury or illness attributable to service and, most recently, invited to be an ambassador for the charity.
Born in Jamaica while his father was serving with The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) the oldest infantry battalion in the British Army formed in 1633, now part of 1 SCOTS, David grew up in Germany, Cyprus and Edinburgh. Both his parents come from Scotland and David and his family now live in Law, Lanarkshire.
He joined the Army in 1990 after training as a specialist intensive care nurse, working at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh. He was first injured in Bosnia in 1994 during a missile attack. He initially thought he had suffered a shrapnel injury to his back and torso but a few years down the line, it emerged he had undergone a serious blast traumatic brain injury.
He has now been diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a progressive disease found in people who have suffered a severe blow to the head. For David, this manifests itself as problems with coordination, especially walking, and these became more pronounced from 2005.
David was later injured in Belfast, while trying to extract a casualty from a dangerous situation, where a helicopter was unable to land but instead had to hover.
“The weather was bad and there was a gust of wind and the helicopter moved and I got hit by the skids and tail of the helicopter, damaging the vertebrae of my spine and the discs,” David said.
He has since been told he has an unstable fracture, which is too risky to operate on. The condition has deteriorated and causes him chronic pain, including sciatica.
After his injuries, David continued to work in the Army until 2000 when his commission was up. He left nursing due to the pain, and risk of complicating his back injury, which he was suffering from and got a job in sales and marketing for pharmaceutical company, where he was employed until the summer of August, 2015, when he was made redundant.
This triggered psychological problems and led to a diagnosis of severe PTSD.
“It was a big change in my life and the uncertainty of what was happening triggered quite serious symptoms,” he said. “I could not sleep; I had unwanted images and depression.”
Through his GP, David was put in touch with a variety of bodies to support him. He got involved with Scottish Disability Sport and Scottish Athletics and was then invited to represent the British Armed Force in the US Warrior Games 2015, designed to introduce wounded, injured and sick service members and veterans to Paralympic sport competition. Participation in the Games is funded by the Help for Heroes Sports Recovery Programme.
David took part in shotput, archery and shooting and even won a bronze medal for discus.
He said: “Being involved in The Warrior Games put me in touch with the Help for Heroes Sports Recovery team and I became a lot more involved with disability sport.
“The Warrior Games gave me an opportunity to take part in a significant international competition. The whole ethos of Sports Recovery and the people you meet is fantastic. It continues to help my physical recovery but, in terms of the psychological side, it’s a massive improvement. It gives me focus and a sense of achievement. Without sport, I would be in a far worse place both physically and mentally. I have always been a supporter of Help for Heroes but, until the Warrior Games, I hadn’t realised that I could benefit from the Charity.”
Soon after the games, David visited Help for Heroes northern Recovery Centre Phoenix House at Catterick, where he was assigned a support worker.
He said: “The recovery centre was great. It was in the military community and I was once stationed in Catterick so it was nice to be back. As soon as you walk through the door, there are happy smiling faces welcoming you and each person you meet spends the time to listen and find a way to support you.”
Through the Centre’s Support Hub, David was able to apply to the charity’s grant giving team for much needed funds to help adapt the bungalow he recently moved to with his wife Hayley and children Callum, 21, Rachel, 18 and Rebecca, 14. The council paid 80% towards the adaptations, such as widening the doors and creating a wet room, and Help for Heroes provided £5,000 towards the difference, with David making up the rest of the cost.
“The Help for Heroes grant really made the difference as to whether we could make the changes,” said David. “It has given me more freedom and movement in my house. It was very generous and timely.”
Through the Help for Heroes Band of Brothers, David has been able to access a lot of support in Scotland, where he has been to meetings and events organised by Mary Wilson, the Help for Heroes BoB/BoS coordinator for Scotland. David was selected to become a Help for Heroes ambassador and received training at Phoenix House in January.
He said: “I’m very proud to do it. It’s that feeling of being useful and helping other people, which has always been a feature of my life. It’s about encouraging others and helping them to support the charity as well as encouraging others to access support from the Charity.”
David has already done a couple of presentations and plans to do more in the future.
He said: “It’s about talking to people about the long-term need. For example, with my kind of injury, the likelihood of early-on-set Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is high. People need to be aware that if you are injured, it might not be obvious at first that you need help but it may come later and then you are likely to need support for the rest of your life.
“Help for Heroes has given me a purpose, a sense of achievement, an ability to give back to other Service people and their families, and a new group of friends with similar experiences so I do not feel like I am the only one.
“The commitment Help for Heroes has made to doing its best to stand by people for the long-term is a great intention. It’s the right thing and I am an example of why that is support is so needed.”
Bryn Parry, CEO and Co-founder of Help for Heroes said: “Help for Heroes is proud to be supporting David as he rebuilds his life beyond injury.
“We understand that no recovery journey follows the same path which is why it so important that a holistic, individual approach to support is available.
“We are committed to supporting David, and all those who have been injured in the line of duty, for life.”
Any wounded, injured or sick military personnel or veterans who are in need of support from the Help for Heroes’ Phoenix House Recovery Centre in Catterick, the nearest centre to Scotland, can call (01748) 834148.