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Paul served for 23 years in the RAF, mainly in the Bomb Disposal Unit, but his job exposed him to prolonged danger and repeated traumatic events, and his mental health suffered as a result. His story is a testament to the importance of receiving the right help and support - through the care and resolve of loved ones; through expert medical treatment; and most recently, through the guidance that helped him return to the workplace and into a new and rewarding career.
"You made me feel valuable as a veteran when I felt discarded by the military so now, I can move forward and remember my service time fondly."
When Paul left school, he trained for 7 years to be a car mechanic. One day, he happened to hear an Army recruitment advert on the radio, and he decided to find out more about a career in the military. In 1996, at the age of 22, Paul joined 14 Squadron RAF as a Weapon’s Technician and worked on Tornado combat aircraft - a job that he thoroughly enjoyed and that took him all over the world.
A few years later, he successfully applied to train to become a Bomb Disposal Technician and transferred to 5131 Bomb Disposal Squadron. In 2003, on day 1 of the Iraq conflict, Paul was deployed to Kuwait as part of the Joint Services Bomb Disposal Group.
During Paul’s first tour, he started to experience panic attacks and he was sent back to the UK with suspected Acute Stress Reaction.
As a committed team member, he felt guilty and ashamed that he had left his colleagues and he asked to be sent back to Iraq to re-join his unit. The second and third tours followed and Paul was exposed to further trauma and started to suffer from anxiety and depression and to experience intense and disturbing flashbacks.
To try to hide the symptoms of PTSD and to manage his mental health, Paul self-medicated with increased amounts of alcohol.
Paul attempted to improve his well-being and he left his career in Bomb Disposal in 2013, but his mental health continued to decline until sadly, he attempted suicide. His wife, who also served in the RAF, insisted that he sought medical help and for the next 4 years, Paul received outstanding therapy and support from the DCMH (Department of Community Mental Health).
Paul was on an enormous high until he was notified that he was being discharged from the RAF on medical grounds.
His world came crashing down and he was at a total loss. Unfortunately, he then experienced a breakdown, he was hospitalized and then stabilized through mental health intervention.
Afterward, Paul gave himself plenty of time to regroup and to consider what he wanted to do next.
It was at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and he knew that he wanted to help during a difficult time for the NHS - he decided that a hospital porter role would be ideal. However, he needed support and reassurance and so he decided to contact WWTW and was put in touch with Chris Carlise, an Employment Advisor.
Chris quickly recognised that Paul wasn’t ready to return to full-time work and together they decided that a part-time volunteer role would be the best initial course of action. It would also give Paul the opportunity to see if the job suited him. Chris provided Paul with all the information and guidance that he needed to apply to be a volunteer for the NHS.
In March 2020, Paul started as a hospital porter and volunteered for 3-8 hrs shifts a week. The work helped to restore his self-esteem and reminded him that teamwork was incredibly important to him. He also enjoyed the banter with other staff members and with people attending the hospital. In August, Paul successfully applied for a full-time position as a porter at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.
Paul now works alongside 6 other veterans and he has been asked to be an Armed Forces Champion. Together with his wife, who works at another hospital in the trust, he is pushing to get SITH into Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust.
Paul is immensely grateful to his wife for all her support over the years, especially during the dark times. He knows it has been far from easy, but she has always stood by him, no matter what.
‘I love every single day that I go into work. Happiness is so much more important than money. If I can make a patient smile, then I have achieved my goal.’
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