“I returned from Helmand in August 2009 following the most intense summer of fighting that the British Army had ever endured in Afghanistan. It didn’t take long before I was routinely woken by nightmares recounting several horrific incidents involving my IEDD team. As a Captain with a promising career ahead of me I decided to ignore my symptoms and focus on my job. In 2011, I returned to Helmand and I continued to hide my issues from the Chain of Command and threw myself heavily into my work.
In 2014, I was being seen by a physiotherapist for a knee injury; one day she told me she was concerned by a few things that had come up during our conversations and she told me she thought I had PTSD. Clearly, I knew this was true however I denied it. The following week she offered me some literature and asked me to read through it. She also told me she could initiate a consultation with DCMH without alerting my CoC. I agreed and in June 2015 I visited Donnington DCMH.
My first appointment was simply an assessment and I attended with my wife. It was clear to the Psychiatric Nurse (Sqn Ldr Cormack Doyle) that I had a severe case of PTSD and as such we planned several more sessions on a weekly basis. During my second session Cormack asked me if I wanted a medical discharge; he also alluded to the fact that I could sue the MOD and get a decent financial package from a medical discharge. I was offended and disgusted by this and told him my intention was to get better and complete my military career and not to leave the service. We continued with EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitisation & Reprocessing) treatments on an ad-hoc basis as he focused on his own discharge plan from the RAF and in October 2015 I was assigned to Maj Gerwyn Michael. Under Gerwyn I continued with EMDR until July 2016 when it was decided to move me under the care of a Clinical Psychologist called Dr Clare Thompson.
In March of 2016 the Psychiatrist at DCMH Donnington (Dr Geoff Reid) told me I was not to return to my workplace and that I was being sent home on permanent sick leave. This was absolutely against my wishes as I loved my role as Officer Commanding of an Operational EOD Sqn. He also informed me that he was referring me to a medical board for discharge. I was devastated; my world fell apart. Never had my CoC been aware of my suffering; my work never suffered and I always conducted my duties impeccably attaining high annual grades and with real prospects for further advancement in rank. My Commanding Officer was shocked. I asked for things to be kept confidential because I felt ashamed.
So, on 17 March I was sent home on the highest permitted dose of anti-depressants permissible to my house in the country where I had no neighbours or friends to support me. During each day, my wife was at work and my daughter was at school leaving me feeling alone and vulnerable. I can state with certainty that this situation made my anxiety even worse. I even lost £11k from my wage because I was no longer in an operational role – please note that I mention this only for context as many other sufferers in the trade are reliant on such a sum of money.
Between 17th March 2016 and 17th June 2017, I was at home. Other than a very small number of visits during these 15 months, my only other military contact was when I attended a DCMH appointment in Donnington for one hour a week. I felt like the service had dropped me like a stone.
During my medical board on 17th Aug 2016, I was informed by the professional panel that they felt I was making progress under Dr Clare Thompson and that the previous twelve months of EMDR treatment had not worked; despite this they decided to discharge me from the service giving me ten months’ notice and placing me under the control of the PRU in Donnington. Clearly, I challenged the decision based on the fact that the EMDR had been a waste of time and that I had been undergoing it for far too long. Research from the USA (and confirmed by Clare) indicated that EMDR was mainly successful in patients who had suffered a single traumatic event but rarely in those with multiple events. Despite my plea to remain the panel’s decision stood and I was discharged on 17th June 2017.
On a positive note, I continued to respond to treatment under Clare and in the last six months I have had a handful of episodes at night. I do still suffer from serious anxiety in certain situations through the day (loud bangs, crowded places and overseas travel) however Clare taught me some sound coping strategies and I am able to control situations and work through them relatively easily.
Following my medical board in August 2016, I decided to go public with my condition; I was hugely humbled by the support I received from colleagues, friends and family however I remained disgusted by the lack of support from the military. Never (not once) has any military person spoken with or contacted my wife to offer support throughout this entire situation; she suffered the same sleepless nights as me. Since going public I have been contacted by 5 other members of my trade who have been suffering in the same way. Having seen what has happened to me, all of them are afraid to seek support in case they end up losing their careers. One of them was under DCMH and has subsequently told them he is cured because he feared the worst.”