Leaving or left the Armed Forces?

Struggling to find a way in life?

Navy Veteran Chris Paling offer a few thoughts on the struggles service personnel face when leaving the military.

Many former service personnel struggle to settle back into a safe and peaceful life when they leave the military. Many are left without proper access to resettlement services; suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are unemployed and use drink and drugs to cope; often leading to homelessness.

This is in spite of the much publicised UK Armed Forces Covenant designed to support serving personnel and their families. It often fails to do this, in realty once a person leaves the military they are on their own.

There are plenty of charities to help people out of the the void, from the governments lack of care. But these often promote militarism; they have become part of the propaganda that the military actually cares about its former employees. 

Former employees of the military are more likely to get this help if they donate an arm, leg or even all of their limbs. Then they can be sure of an invitation to the Invicta games and a chance to win even more medals.

The following provides some simple but key information to highlight the need to de-programme what the military has done to the people when they were in its charge.

Why does this happen and how can people avoid problems to have a successful life out of the military?

Thousands of Armed Forces personal leave the services every year. Each person has served somewhere of the region of between 4 and 30 years. The military has its own unique:

  •  environment
  •  language (slang)
  •  methods
  •  personality and lifestyle

These start from day one; some may see this as ‘brainwashing’ or an institutional way of life, it is indeed how the military operates.

It’s common that living and working this way for many years when people try to live back in the community it often leads to setbacks:

  • Feeling isolated
  • Alienation
  • Not coping with daily living tasks
  • A lack of direction
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Experimenting with illicit drugs
  • PTSD
  • Anger management and other emotional distress issues

What can be done to help people have a peaceful and successful life? What are the likely pitfalls?

Three of the biggest pitfalls that affect people’s well-being are PSTD, substance misuse and homelessness. Any of these (or a combination) prevents people from integrating back into new social and workplace environments.

Discipline is one of the first things taught. In basic training, personal are programmed to think it’s this that helped make them good service personnel functioning in the forces. What it really meant was they would follow orders without question. It’s not easy for people who have been through the process to recognise this. Once they have left the military it’s one of the things that slips once back in the community.

There are no organisation or daily orders prepared for a day’s activities, no Sergeant, Corporal or Leading Hand around to give orders; for a successful life people have to assume their own responsibility to make decisions. On the surface this is not always as straight forward as it may seem.

A good example is what’s needed to find a new job. People don’t necessarily have the life skills to be self-focused. They may not understand the need to take practical steps such as

  • establishing a routine (waking up early/ eat breakfast/ shower/exercise)
  • preparing a timetable for the day
  • listing of tasks to be completed that day
  • job research/CV building/applications
  • networking (don’t’ become isolated)
  • gaining civilian qualifications

It’s important (for everyone) in life to set goals and have clear objectives, to make a successful life, goals need to be SMART:

  • specific
  • measurable
  • achievable
  • realistic
  • time bound

Once plans and goals are made it’s important that effort is made to stick to them otherwise what’s the point of making them? At times living back in the community is going to be stressful. Family and friends can be an important part to finding peace. It’s important to take time to make connections with them; they are the ones who will help adaption into a new phase of life.

Trying to find work and establishing new social bonds is difficult. Keeping physically fit is one of the best ways to relieve stress and keep focus, so it’s important to stay active and eat well. All seem so simple? Not so, if it was then I wouldn’t be writing this article!

Often leavers feel they are the only ones struggling to cope, but there are thousands of ex forces personal who are going through, or have been through the process. Veterans for Peace (UK) are all former military men and women who have been through this. It’s important that the people know about the organisation, it can help to prevent isolation and increase support networks. People who want a peaceful life can find a positive outlet and turn trauma and despair into positive action and hope. 

Chris Paling is a Veteran of the Royal Navy and now our Midlands Coordinator and a member of LEAP UK.


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  2. Angela says:

    I came upon your website by chance and was dismayed to read how men and women upon leaving the forces, are being ignored the by the government.
    I am appalled and ashamed that you are being treated in such a manner. Having never served in the forces I was not aware of the situation.
    To learn you are abandoned, left to fend for yourselves with the possibility of having no where to live is an absolute outrage.
    If it is the case, there is someone in London who has no where to stay they are most welcome in my home. No matter the time of day or night.

    I had presumed lessons had been learnt from the Second World War, but I see this is not so.
    My uncle who returned home after being held captive by the Japanese never regained his health. He spent many years living with the horror he had endured during his time as a prisoner. He was one of many, who returned home four years after the official war had ended and was abandoned by the army. The situation I see has not much has changed.
    Angela Roberts

  3. Adam Kilshaw says:

    Good read, after I struggled to move and find a home from a medical discharge after serving 12 years with the Royal Engineers (1st Oct 2007). Couldnt get a job for nearly two years and had kids and was married. With that I am now working with a long time civvy friend and also military mate to begin a new business that actually aids soldiers when leaving or have left. A brand new software platform with more than your average job website offers. We get the problems after being there ourselves and we are reaching to raise the funding to get ourselves started. It has taken over a year to design the service we aim to provide that will ensure that you get what you/we deserve and the failure that the Government and MOD have failed and still fail to achieve. Cheers for the hard work all

  4. Leonard Lawrence says:

    A few months ago I reprieved in the post a book from former Corporal, Jimmy Johnson. Jimmy is now A5207AE J. Johnson G Wing, HM Prison Frankland, Brasside, Durham. DH1 5YD.
    The book was titled:
    Explaining combat-related PTSD for ex-servicemen and their families.
    Foreword by General the Lord Dannatt
    ISBN 9781783962723

    On the rear cover of THE VETERANS SURVIVAL GUIDE.
    General the Lord Ramsbotham GCB CBE writes: ‘Jimmy Johnson is to be thanked and congratulated for producing such an admirably clear guide, not only on what PTSD means to a suffer, but on what remedial action could and should be taken by those who are in a position to help veterans.’

    Chris Paling writes: An estimated 13,000 former service personnel are homeless since leaving the military.

    Lord Ramsbotham GCB CBE, Former Inspector of Prisons:
    A findings paper by HM Inspectorate of Prisons March 2014
    The highest proportions of ex-Service personnel were located in high security prisons and category B training prisons (each 13%)

    I was diagnosed by Wing Commander Professor Gordon Turnbull FRCP FRCPsych RAF Rtd. with Complex PTSD that was re-trigged 20 years after a traumatic event in 1984.

    It was members of Government Legal Services that caused me many of my problems, I was medicated with psychiatric drugs (Chemical Cosh) until I lost mental capacity and held for 18 months in the psychiatric system. My home was sold and I was later evicted on to the streets !

    Trauma can occur to anyone at any-time. Once traumatised
    you are at risk of entering the mental health system. Once in the mental health system very few people will escape. Norman did, but only by leaving his home in England.

    I also escaped the mental health system, but only thanks to former servicemen and women. Almost 35 years later
    I am still closely observed by one of Royal Navy’s former specialists in PTSD. Not because of what occurred in 1984 but because of what Government Legal Services did to me in
    Leonard Lawrence.
    Ex Royal Navy

  5. Chris paling says:

    Hi Norman
    Thanks for your feedback.
    An estimated 13,000 former service personnel are homeless since leaving the military. The article is not whining but offers useful advice to those that may find it of use who are struggling. The economy and society are very different to when you left the forces – this article recognises it. I hope this adds some context.

    1. Norman Scarth says:

      The moderation of your response is much appreciated, but you are assuming I have not suffered, when I have in fact suffered more than most.
      True, for the 50 years after I left the Royal Navy in 1946, I had a life as good & happy as I deserved, blissfully ignorant of the true state of Britain.
      Not until the age of 70, did I discover, by chance, that it is not the land I had believed it to be. In a succession of shocks, all my lifelong beliefs shattered, I learned that corruption is rampant, nowhere more so than the courts, run by the Legal/Judicial Mafia. In memory of the brave men (of both sides) who died around me, I made it my mission in life to expose them. It proved to be a very dangerous mission.
      Apart from the disproportionate number of ex-servicemen in prison, you complain of neglect of those who ‘served their country’ (as they believed they were doing).
      I did not suffer ‘neglect’. The treatment meted out to me was DELIBERATE!
      The efforts to silence me involved potentially lethal physical attacks. I survived only because my constitution proved stronger than most men of my age.
      So, they were followed by a malicious prosecution (for a non-existent ‘crime’) a grotesque ‘trial’, & more than six years incarceration (the last occasion being at the age of 85, when Judge Jonathan Lee Rose sent me to the notorious Armley Gaol – for ‘Contempt’).
      Two years of the incarceration before that had been in Stalinist ‘Mental Hospitals’. I never expected to get out alive, but eventually came under a psychiatrist who was not a puppet of The State (as all too many are). Knowing that (in spite of all that had been done to me), I was still completely sane, he ordered my release.
      It was after the last incarceration in Armley Gaol, I finally (& belatedly!) accepted that Britain is not a safe place for those who tell the truth, & (as Leonard Lawrence tells below) fled the land of my birth for safety in Ireland.
      From where I am STILL continuing my efforts to expose the corruption!

  6. Norman Scarth says:

    I have only just noticed that you are a member of LEAP UK.
    I fully support & applaud you for this.
    The so-called ‘WAR ON DRUGS” (as currently operated) is counter-productive, encouraging the illegal drugs industry, & enabling drug barons to become billionaires.

  7. Norman Scarth says:

    I fully support & applaud your work at LEAP UK.
    The current ‘

  8. Norman Scarth says:

    To Navy Veteran Chris Paling.
    Stop whining Chris. That is not what VfP should be about
    A generation before you, I, like you, had been gullible enough to swallow the propaganda that we were ‘Fighting for Freedom’, etc., etc., etc. (Lacking the current sources of information, we had more excuse than present generations)
    Far from whining, I am grateful that, late in life, the scales fell from my eyes, & I learned the truth.
    I now put all my effort into spreading that truth to the brainwashed, poppy-wearing populace.
    Norman Scarth.
    Veteran of the Arctic Convoys & Battle of North Cape of WW2

  9. David Marchesi says:

    the contrast between self-control, as is desirable but hard to achieve, and the total “discipline” of the military could hardly be clearer- but theirs not to reason why !

  10. Charlie Cook says:

    Great article.
    All very relevant points.
    After leaving the army I struggled with most of the points raised in this article from alcohol misuse and near homelessness to the simple things like planning a daily routine.
    It’s good to know that I’m not the only one

  11. benjamin mcintosh says:

    A great article with some really good ideas as to how you have quite rightly put it deprogramme .

    Your point about the invictus games is a valid one,on one side it appears that the games are used as a token of thankyou by the system. However to me it is a tool to keep those soldiers who came back disabled from the conflicts from questioning what they fought for and the very system itself.

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