Veteran Gavin Lewis was a Private in the Royal Regiment of Wales for 12 years. Service in Northern Ireland with the Royal Hampshire Regiment, led to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, blackouts, seizures, excessive drinking and eventually, the breakdown of his marriage and homelessness four years ago.
Life improved after Gavin discovered Help for Heroes Community Recovery Team. He’s now much more positive, able to focus on the day-job, as one of the nations’ key workers. Gavin is a theatre support worker in the Operating Department of the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend.
“Every day we ‘don’ and ‘dof’ our PPE at the start of the shift; masks, goggles respirators, getting ready to do our jobs, supporting the surgeons in theatre. Lots of the patients have Covid,” he says. It’s a difficult environment to work in, but one Gavin trained for, “I pledged an oath to the Queen, and I feel honoured to be able to still serve my country,” he says.
48-year-old Gavin, from Bettws, near Bridgend, accepts that the atmosphere is challenging and stressful, but he knows his Help for Heroes key worker is able to provide additional support if he needs it. Working remotely, due to social distancing guidance, Amanda Thomas now consults with her clients via phone and skype, rather than face to face, but she says she can still offer support and advice to the men and women who need it.
“We can put families in touch with our Hidden Wounds counselling service if things become too much for them to cope with, we’re able to help with grant applications, advise them on accessing welfare and essential services from local authorities, we can get medical advocacy from our Veteran’s Clinical Liaison team, there are so many ways we can help, often after they’ve made that initial contact they are overwhelmed with all the support they can access through the charity,” Amanda says.
Looking to the future, Gavin is optimistic that he will be reunited with his fellow veterans in the Invictus Games Choir, once rules regarding social distancing can be relaxed. In March they joined Jon Bon Jovi and Prince Harry at Abbey Road Studios to record “Unbroken” a song written to honour the men and women due to take part in the Games, stated by the Prince, which have now been rescheduled for 2021.
The song has resonance for Gavin, who says “There's a few lines in the song which are really relevant to me, the main one is ‘I got this painful ringing in my ears, from an IED last night’, I suffer from tinnitus. We live with these conditions every day, and it’s hard. I didn’t know I could get help with that until I contacted Help for Heroes.”
Gavin’s plans to perform with the Choir are on hold for now, but in the meantime he’s focusing on getting the job done, serving his country and supporting our NHS as we unite facing a challenge which has changed all our lives dramatically.