Gulf War veteran who slept rough while battling PTSD welcomes cash boost for Edinburgh drop-in cafe

A Gulf War veteran who slept rough while battling PTSD has welcomed a cash boost for a drop-in cafe where he now helps other ex forces members and their families.

By Jolene Campbell
Saturday, 14th August 2021, 4:55 am

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Joe Sangster, from Edinburgh, says safe spaces like the Community Café in the city’s Stafford Centre where veterans can talk to each other are a lifeline, especially for those suffering with mental health problems.

Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans Keith Brown met Joe this week as he handed over a cheque for £9,000 while on a visit to the cafe, which provides support, meditation and tai chi services to dozens of ex servicemen and women.

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Veterans: Justice and Veterans Minister Keith Brown, who served in Falklands, visiting the community cafe in Edinburgh

Joe, 52, joined the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in 1987 and later went on to be stationed in Kuwait during the first Gulf War.

His life took a turn for the worse when he was made redundant from service at 22. After the dad-of-three turned to drink and his marriage fell apart he bounced around jobs and homes while struggling with aggression.

At times he was too scared to leave his house. But he hit rock bottom when he was forced to sleep on the streets – while still suffering terrifying panic attacks in public places.

Joe said: “Not long after the Gulf I started drinking. I struggled with anxiety and couldn’t sleep. It was hard to shake some memories, like seeing dead bodies at the side of the road by burnt-out vehicles.

Former soldier Joe Sangster said the Vererans' Community Cafe was a vital lifeline. (Pic: Lisa Ferguson)

“Those kind of things just stay with you. I remember driving through an oil field that was blown up and seeing guys injured from gunshots and men holding their own intestines.

"Back then nobody talked about mental health. It was seen as a sign of weakness. I bottled it up, all the problems with depression and controlling my anger. It took me many years to learn ways to get a grip of it.”

Figures released by the MOD in April this year revealed suicides among veterans hit their highest in fifteen years.

Mr Brown met veterans and and announced cash support for ex-armed forces personnel from a £200,000 fund.

Joe wants to see more done to long-term help for PTSD survivors. He was diagnosed with PTSD by army doctors in 1997 – but didn’t get help for another seventeen years.

He turned to silversmithing and now has a workshop in the Stafford Centre.

He added: "Support is out there but it’s not long term. PTSD is for life. I know veterans fighting to get their war pension and the struggle makes their condition worse. It deserves more recognition and help for the long haul.”

With the cash from the £200,000 fund backed by the Scottish Government, Support in Mind will provide more help at the cafe which welcomes around 25 veterans every week, along with their families.

Keith Brown, a former Royal Marine who served in the Falklands, said: “Our veterans’ community deserves the best possible care and support and I am very pleased to announce these new allocations from the Scottish Veterans Fund.

“We are supporting a range of projects and a great example is the Support in Mind Scotland charity in Edinburgh which does important work to support veterans experiencing mental health issues. Coming back to civilian life can be daunting for those who have faced the end of a gun. Having services like this in place can help avoid people falling through the cracks.”

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