Matt Neve joined the RAF in 2001 aged 16, straight out of school. His father also served, and after hearing all the stories, Matt couldn’t wait to follow in his footsteps. He originally joined up as a rigger, however due to an injury sustained on basic training, he changed trades and became a MT Driver. He was then posted to RAF Brize Norton where he specialised in air field support.
Matt said: “anything to do with vehicles on the air field I did it - whether that was sweeping the airfield in the road sweeper to refuelling the aircraft, and everything in between. I really enjoyed it, no two days were the same.”
In 2003 Matt was deployed to Iraq on Op Telic 1, which is where his story changed forever.
Part of Matt’s role was to assist with the transportation of those injured to the aircraft for repatriation. Days, weeks and months of seeing and supporting comrades with horrific injuries eventually took its toll on his mental health, to the point where Matt became one of these casualties himself and he was medevaced back to the UK.
Leaving the tour changed Matt completely. He began drinking heavily and was heading in a downwards spiral. At his lowest point, he tried to take his own life and the Senior Aircraftsman was medically discharged from the RAF in 2004.
“Even after I tried to take my life, I never accepted I had issues. It took me approximately 12 years to accept my problems and come forward for help.”
Eventually in 2015 Matt joined Help for Heroes’ Band of Brothers fellowship and engaged with the charity’s sports programme, which introduced him to archery. A grant from Help for Heroes enabled Matt to buy his own kit, and in 2017 he was selected to compete in the Invictus Games in Toronto.
"The focus of archery, when I am looking down the range at the target, I just switch off and all the tension builds in the draw of the arrow and then it goes with the arrow when it’s released. It’s an escape.”
Through the Invictus Games process, Matt began to understand his own mental health difficulties, after getting to know other veterans who had been through similar things. This ultimately led to him asking for help with his mental health, and he started using the Help for Heroes Hidden Wounds service.
Matt regularly takes part in Community Recovery activities local to him, and afar - including trekking across the Sahara desert with other wounded veterans. He was also part of the Help for Heroes ‘Cut the Clock’ campaign in 2019, encouraging veterans to come forward for mental health support.
"I got involved with the Cut the Clock campaign because, for me, it was all about trying to reach out to those that either don’t feel they deserve support or they don’t think they need support. And it’s about reaching out to them. They may be isolating themselves at home or isolating themselves away from anyone else.”
"If it wasn’t for the likes of Help for Heroes there wouldn’t be a support network. It’s not just financial support, it’s having people to talk to and meeting other people. It’s really important the support continues.”
During lockdown, Matt has taken full advantage of the digital services on offer from Help for Heroes. He has had contact with the Wales team, gotten involved in the various video chats with other veterans, been part of the Help for Heroes gaming community, and now Zwift.
Matt is also a keen fundraiser for Help for Heroes, undertaking sponsored motorcycle rides and supporting other veterans needing help. In 2014 he raised £5,000 by riding his motorcycle around the UK coastline, fundraising as he went. More recently, he raised £250 doing a 24hour live gaming stream, and now has his sights on the 2021 Big Battlefield Bike Ride.
Matt takes his role as a Help for Heroes Ambassador seriously too.
“I wanted to become an ambassador because I have benefited from Help for Heroes through grants, Hidden Wounds, fellowship, sports recovery programmes and Invictus, which has all benefited me and my wellbeing. It’s now my turn to reach out and help find others that need support and signpost them to the different parts of Help for Heroes. It’s my way of returning the favour as such."
“If Help for Heroes never existed, veterans and their families would be in a much worse off position. The charity is really important in helping those that are suffering from physical and psychological injuries and helping transition into civvy street and coming to terms with their injuries. The charity is also a big part of helping us realise that we may be broken but it doesn’t stop us achieving.”