Strong links with the Armed Forces: Helping forces personnel return to civilian life
Hampshire has had a long and proud association with the Armed Forces; their presence has helped to shape the county and its communities.
The Armed Forces are one of the largest employers in Hampshire occupying a wide range of land and buildings. Many buildings, such as the Portsmouth Dockyard and Peninsula Barracks in Winchester, are significant in historic and cultural terms.
The challenges service families face are the same as those experienced by the wider population. However, as a result of service life, they have to deal with additional issues. These issues can vary as each of the forces has its own particular lifestyle. Serving in the Army, Royal Navy and RAF means that families face varying degrees of separation from their wider local community and with the stress of frequent deployments (or ‘postings’) to conflict zones, notably Afghanistan.
Over the past 18 months, Hampshire County Council has been working closely with the Ministry of Defence, the three Armed Forces, local authorities, health agencies and charities to reduce any disadvantage service personnel may face when moving from one posting to another or from military to civilian life. This partnership also enables us to make the best use of resources.
One recent area of work has been to support the development of the Army’s Personnel Recovery Unit (PRU) in Aldershot, which is providing valuable help to sick and injured service men and women. Similar units operate to support personnel from the Royal Navy and the RAF. We met Lieutenant Colonel Paul Meldon, responsible for the PRU in Aldershot, to find out more about this important unit.
What is the Personnel Recovery Unit (PRU)?
The PRU is designed to help soldiers achieve the best possible outcome in terms of finding their next career if they are in a position where their injuries or illness mean they can’t carry on in their current role in the Army. It is not a medical unit; we arrange our recovery activities around their medical recovery. These activities may include adapting their home and car, training for a new career, and managing finances.
Why were Personnel Recovery Units introduced?
The Army wanted to increase the help available to individuals in this unfortunate position so they get much more dedicated support.
What sort of issues do people have?
It’s a wide range. We have those who have the obvious injuries from Afghanistan and most notable are the amputations from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). We have many with knee problems because being in the Army is physically demanding. We also have those who may have had a road traffic accident, suffer from a degenerative bone disease or insulin dependent diabetes, which may be incompatible with further military service. We assist people with psychological issues too.
Is there support for the families as well?
We look at the whole family. For example, if a soldier has lost both lower limbs and can no longer drive, we may be able to provide training in order that the family is still mobile. We can transfer that kind of training to spouses or family members in order to get the best outcome for the family.
What different organisations do you work with?
We work with job suppliers, training providers, charities, the NHS and local authorities including Hampshire County Council.
How important is it to work with Hampshire County Council?
To me it is absolutely key. Hampshire County Council has been fundamental in the success we have had within the PRU. My boss, Brigadier Neil Baverstock, attends regular meetings with the County Council. We want to ensure that when service personnel come to the end of their careers, they are going into a supported environment which is no different from the level of support received in the Army. The County Council has been at the forefront of that activity.
How important is the liaison with the local community?
It is absolutely vital because the aim of the unit is to get service personnel into a supported environment for their future and without the support and assistance of the local community we can’t make that happen.
Can you think of a particular individual who has transitioned through your system very effectively?
Yes, there is one young man who was in a really dark place psychologically and also had some severe physical injuries when he joined the PRU. When he left, he said to me that the PRU had been the gateway to his future. He has since completed a project management qualification and is now reading engineering at university - his life has transformed. He has secured housing and his whole future is mapped out for him purely because of his membership of this unit.