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Returning to civilian life can be one of the toughest battles faced by veterans. Adjusting to life away from comrades, routine and purpose, veterans and their families often struggle with the mental and physical scars of service. 

This is the Veterans War. A war forgotten by many. But not by Help for Heroes.

The impact of service can affect family life, but as Tony, Dean, Darren and Brian each show, the support Help for Heroes has given each of them has provided hope to become a fun, loving and present father once more.  

Tony's story

As an Army nurse in Afghanistan, Tony risked his life to keep his comrades safe. 

During a fierce fight on tour in Afghanistan, Tony was shot and paralysed from the waist down.  

“A bullet hit my left hip, tore through my abdomen, and hit my spine. The pain was excruciating. As a nurse, I knew I was dying.” 

Tony was flown back to the UK where he spent six days in a coma. He needed 52 units of blood and 36 hours of surgery. 

“When I woke up, I was told I wasn’t going to walk again and that I had pretty much zero chance of having kids.” 

Four years after Tony sustained his injuries, his eldest daughter was born.  

“I cried with joy. It was the best feeling ever.” He said. 

Then, just two years later, Tony achieved what doctors told him was impossible once again when he became a father for the second time.  

“I began to believe I was able to achieve more. My daughters gave me even more determination.” 

Tony stands with his wife and three young children for a photo
Tony, his daughters and wife - Tony Williams

As time went on, Tony began suffering with excruciating sciatic spasms. “My daughters were witnessing me in pain and unable to move easily which upset them. Seeing their loved one in such a state was hard and it being due to my injuries was more of a concern to me than my condition.” 

Tony strongly considered having his leg amputated so he could be more active with his girls. In desperation he turned to Help for Heroes for support who reassured him there was a lot that could be done to ease his pain. The Charity provided a bespoke leg brace and physio to help with his walking. 

“The true extent of help I’ve received from Help for Heroes has been far greater than expected. The leg brace has given me 42% more mobility. The support Help for Heroes has given me and my family has meant not only do I still have my leg, but we have much better quality of life as a family.” 

Last year, Tony walked 13 Miles with his family raising over £1500, for Help for Heroes. He now plays football with his daughters Holly, nine, Ellena, eight, and Sophie, eight, and is looking forward to walking his bride down the aisle when they marry in August.

“I am now really active in the gym and have lost more than a stone in weight. More importantly though, my long-term health and supporting muscles around my leg are stronger and more robust, with less weight being put through the paralysed limb.”

“I’m now able to be the father I want to be.”

Brian sits on a rock with his two sons
Brian and his sons on a day out together - Brian

Brian's story

For 10 years Brian turned to alcohol to try to cope with the memories of war and terrorism. Horrific scenes from his military career played out on a constant and tormenting loop in his mind.   

The wars he served in were over, but Brian was fighting an invisible war with PTSD and alcohol abuse.  

Despite being surrounded by a loving family, he felt alone and lost. Every day was a battle. Every night was worse. 

 “As time went on, I felt I had to drink more because my tolerance to alcohol had grown so I needed more to block out the noise. Eventually I went to the doctors because I was jaundiced.”  

“The doctor said I was a functioning alcoholic. He told me I had cirrhosis of the liver, and if I didn’t do something about it, I’d die within two months. He also confirmed I had PTSD.     
“That day was a big reality check, I didn’t want to die. I wanted to see my kids grow up. My wife Ros and the kids were my incentive to get better.” 

“When I gave up alcohol, I no longer had that crutch. So, the post-traumatic stress disorder hit me full on. I had nightmares as the reality of everything that I’d experienced in the military hit home. It was a very emotional and trying time.

“Being a Dad of two young sons, I didn’t want it to have any effect on them."

“I approached Help for Heroes, and they invited me to a coffee morning. I remember sitting down in a café and someone coming up and having a chat. I could relate to them, and they could relate to me, because they understood. They could answer some of the questions bouncing around my head.

Brian and son Kieran stood at bridge
Kieran: "I’m fortunate to say I have a Dad today, but without Help for Heroes’ support I might not have" - Help for Heroes

Brian’s son Kieran, recalls growing up with his father as he battled with his PTSD and says: 

“My Mum and Dad were absolute heroes when it came to protecting my brother and I.  

“As children we grew up pretty oblivious to our Dad’s PTSD. We knew he had been in the Army but any discussions about his career were quickly shut down. I remember, we’d say something without realising it was triggering and Dad would react straight away, which instantly threw us off because we didn’t understand the reason for his reaction.” 

“I was about 10-years-old when Dad reached out to Help for Heroes and I noticed an instant a change in him. He became more open.  

“Being able to speak to people at the Charity myself helped me understand why certain triggers would happen or we would receive certain reactions from Dad. 

“I now have a Dad who I can talk to and who is responsive and active. I know I’m fortunate to say I have a Dad today, but without Help for Heroes’ support I might not have.” 

Talking about his two sons, Brian says: “One of the greatest things in my life right now is I’ve got two boys that I’m immensely proud of. Not only have they grown up and are so mature, they’re so great at what they're doing. They’ve exceeded my expectations of what I wanted for them.” 

Darren sits on a weights bench at the gym he works at
Darren at the gym he works at - Help for Heroes

Darren's story

After serving for 20 years in the British Army, Darren was medically discharged and his world fell apart overnight.   

Not knowing how to apply for a flat, claim benefits he was entitled to and out of work. Darren’s troubles seemed endless and overwhelming.   

Suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and isolated, at times Darren felt his only option was to take his own life. 

Thanks to his Mum and then Help for Heroes, Darren has found his place in the world again.  

“Without my Mum, I wouldn’t be here. She got me to a place where I could ask for help.

“It wasn't until I got counselling from Rose in Hidden Wounds that I realised I'd not been right for a long time. With the relationship we built up, it was so easy to trust Rose. She made me feel that I was actually a person who mattered again. I was being listened to. Without that, I probably wouldn't have carried on. Rose is a wonderful lady. She literally put me back together. 

“I got into powerlifting through Help for Heroes. They organised competitions called Winter Games. A mate who I met through that said ‘give powerlifting a try’. I loved the way I felt after training.   

“I’ve competed a lot. Even though I am disabled, I lift against people without disabilities. That’s something I’m incredibly proud of and I think goes to show what you can achieve when you put your mind to it.  

Darren, his two sons and own father standing celebrating his win
Darren, his two sons and father celebrate at the Powerlifting British Championships - Darren Sachs

Last month, watched on by his own father and two sons, Darren won two gold medals in powerlifting at the British Championships.  

“What a competition! I came away with a 10kg PB and walked away with two first place medals which gives me an automatic invite to the World Championships in Manchester in November. What’s more was that my dad and two sons, Nathan and Jamie, were in the crowd, to see me win. They have been beside me throughout my recovery journey so to be able to show them how far I have come and for them to be part of the achievement with me was really special.” 

“Before I started with Help for Heroes I was in a really bad way. There were times when it got too much and I thought the only way out of it all was suicide.   

“Now I've got everything in my life that I want and need. I've got family and friends, and another family in the gym. I couldn't be happier.” 

Dean stands holding rifle and wearing full protection and helmet
Dean on tour with the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment - Dean Middleton

Dean's story

Dean joined the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment (Paras) in 2003 and over the next seven years completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He then set his sights on attempting the pinnacle of the British Military – the SAS: Selection “My plan was to pass selection and live happily ever after,” says Dean.  

 However, living happily ever after took on a whole new meaning when Dean and 2 Paras deployed to battle the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2010.  

 On 21 December, the armored vehicle Dean was travelling in hit an IED. The force of the blast was so strong Dean was thrown clear of the vehicle and knocked unconscious.  

Dean’s body sustained a battering, but arriving in hospital, his surgeon’s main concern was that Dean’s brain was swelling dangerously fast. “The surgeons had no choice but to cut away half of my skull. I now have a titanium plate in place of the missing bone.”  

Dean faced a long uphill struggle to battle back from the injuries that had shattered his dreams. After time in both the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, Headley Court, Dean was moved to the Brain Injury Rehab Trust (BIRT). He was also supported by an army Personnel Recovery Officer who introduced him to Help for Heroes.  

"I was excited to discover that Help for Heroes offered sports as a way to recover from injury, it really helped me rebuild my life,” said Dean who now supports other veterans as an Activity & Wellbeing Practitioner at Help for Heroes.

Dean holds his youngest son with the other son stood next to him
Dean with his two sons; Max, 6 and Jude, 2 - Dean Middleton

 "Although the blast ended my dream career, I genuinely believe my life is better than it would’ve been if I hadn’t been blown up. It’s the reason I married my wife, Jade. She’d qualified as a nurse and came to see how I was doing. We’ve now been married for 12 years, and have two beautiful boys: Max, who is six and Jude, who is two.  

 “Recovering from my injury wasn’t easy and I had to work at it, but I have achieved so much. Now as a father, I’m able to show my boys that anything is possible. 

"I worked really hard to get back to a place where I’ve had the opportunity to do extreme challenges such as the Arch to Arc triathlon, which no one would have thought possible at the start of my recovery journey. I want to use this as a way of showing my kids never to limit themselves.  

 “My boys love Marvel and superheroes, Max particularly. He has a pair of superhero pyjamas which he points at and says, "Spiderman and Batman must wear ‘Daddy Deano Pajamas" ‘Deano’ being me. He also tells his friends at nursery that I’m a real superhero which is very sweet.”