But now, after a year living at the Scottish Veteran Residences in the Canongate, the former soldier has transformed his life for the better and is hoping to start up his own business – making jewellery.
Joe Sangster was just 19 when he joined the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in 1987, and later went on to be stationed in Kuwait during the first Gulf War.
The 47-year-old said the experience “changed him as a person” and, sadly, his life took a turn for the worse.
After he was made redundant at 22, the veteran turned to drink, divorced his wife and found it difficult to settle anywhere for any length of time.
“You can’t shake some memories out of your head, like going down the highway of death, where all the blown-up and burnt-out vehicles are, and seeing the dead bodies at the side of the road,” he said.
“Vivid memories like driving through the oil field that was blown up and seeing guys injured from gunshots and men holding their own intestines really affect you for the rest of your life.
“For years I was agoraphobic [scared of open spaces] and couldn’t walk through crowds of people because images just came back to me, but now I’m getting better. I can walk in crowded places but I still can’t use public transport.”
Yesterday, Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone met Mr Sangster at Whitefoord House to discuss funding possibilities for his jewellery business.
Since moving into the residence in December 2014, the veteran has embraced his love for art and creativity, and pursued a series of jewellery-making classes after realising where his talents lay.
Any leftover money he has from his military pension, he spends on silver to work on new jewellery projects.
Mr Johnstone, the Scottish Tory housing spokesman, said: “I was delighted to meet Joe and I was hugely impressed by his work.
“There is a growing awareness that veterans have a huge amount to offer, and this excellent craftsmanship demonstrates that. I look forward to seeing, and purchasing Joe’s work in the future. I would also like to commend the Scottish Veterans Residences for the support and encouragement they are giving Joe and his veteran colleagues.”
Mr Sangster added: “If anyone has any unused or old jewellery they wish to donate, I would happily accept it to make more jewellery.
“Eventually I hope to open up a shop in town, and when I have enough money, employ other veterans to help out.”