Yorkshire veteran whose leg was shattered in Afghanistan shares hopes for wedding day as survey reveals mental health crisis among ex-soldiers with health conditions

Yorkshire veterans have shared personal stories of how reaching out for help has transformed their lives after a survey revealed the extent of the mental health crisis among soldiers.

Veteran Ben Bainbridge, with daughters Ellie and Ariel.

Former infantry soldier Ben Bainbridge, who sustained a life-changing injury in Afghanistan, is looking forward to walking down the aisle to marry his fiancee, Steph Dunn, after receiving a new leg brace from the charity.

Mr Bainbridge, 30, from Beverley in the East Riding of Yorkshire, was put in a coma when his leg was shattered by an explosion 12 years ago, but has since been able to walk again and has two daughters, Ellie, 11, and Ariel, seven.

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He said: “It has been tough, there are a lot of things I struggle to do, like being able go on a long walk with our dog.

“I’m not ashamed of my foot but I’m looking forward to walking up the aisle and having people stare at me for the right reasons.”

Miss Dunn, 31, added: “When he stood up and walked for the first time in the new leg brace I cried, it felt so amazing.

“It was overwhelming because just being able to walk has been a daily struggle for him for 11 years.”

A Help for Heroes poll showed that 73% of veterans with permanent health conditions struggle with their mental wellbeing on a daily basis, and the same number reported frequently suffering with long-term pain.

Meanwhile, 82% have difficulty sleeping every night, according to the charity’s survey of 2,201 veterans and serving personnel conducted in June 2021.

Some 60% of those living with a long-term health condition also said they believed their physical state worsened during the pandemic, and 56% reported that their mental health had deteriorated.

Other soldiers also shared their inspiring stories as the survey was released.

Former Royal Signals communications operator Rob Jennings suffers with sleep deprivation along with PTSD, panic attacks and health and social anxiety after being deployed in Bosnia, where he was on guard from 1am until 3am every night.

The 50-year-old veteran from Leeds, West Yorkshire, said: “By the age of 24 I had three military medals and felt valued for my service, but after mental health difficulties and being medically discharged from the forces I felt worthless.

“However, by interacting with support services, I have created a full-time job that is simply looking after myself and making sure that I get through each day constructively, one day at a time.”

John Newcombe, an infantry soldier of 34 years, was injured in a blast in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and has since developed multiple sclerosis.

Now 58, the veteran, who once ran from Bosnia to Britain to raise funds for Children in Need, uses a wheelchair and is losing the use of his hands, but is determined to complete a 1,000-kilometre journey from the Lancashire coast to raise money for Help for Heroes.

His partner Claire Corner, who will be completing the journey with him and who suffers from the auto-immune disease lupus, said he will be using wheelchairs from Help for Heroes and an adapted static bike and hand-bike gifted by a friend from the army.

Mr Newcombe, who lives near Chorley in Lancashire, said: “People take the simplest things for granted, being able to stand, talking to people face-to-face, a proper hug.

“Help for Heroes came along and I can do all those things again.”

Royal Navy veteran David Street, 42, said he still has nightmares about serving in Afghanistan as a gunner, where he was deployed the day after 9/11.

Mr Street, from Plymouth, suffered injuries to his left knee and lower back, leaving him with permanent pain, reliant on a walking stick, and PTSD.

He said: “The mental side of it is hard. Every bang can trigger something. I’m constantly on edge, I don’t want to sleep. I can’t rest.”

On recent developments in Afghanistan, he said: “A lot of us veterans are feeling worthless, and what was the point of 20 years of conflict in that country? Seeing it now is awful.”

But Mr Street said that Help for Heroes had supported him in overcoming mental health struggles and feeling connected with a “family of veterans”.

Veterans can access support from the charity by calling the helpline on 0300 303 9888.

Mr Newcombe’s fundraising page for his 1,000km challenge can be found here https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/claire-corner4