Ben Norfolk

A diagnosis of complex PTSD brought an abrupt end to Ben Norfolk’s military career. With support from SSAFA, he is getting his life back on track and making a fresh start.

The former RAF Chinook Engineer completed two tours of Iraq and six of Afghanistan during his 18-year service career but is now adjusting to life as a civilian following his medical discharge in November 2017.

“It all relates back to an incident I was part of in 2008,” he said. “The role the Chinooks were doing was a lot of casualty recovery with the MERT Teams. I think my core beliefs, my understanding of people and of life, were challenged by what I saw, particularly because I was not expecting it.”

Despite undergoing therapy to help him deal with the problems he was having, Ben, a married father-of-one, returned to Afghanistan on several occasions. He said: “I felt like when I was out there I was doing something positive. It was all trying to make something good out of a bad situation.”

Ben’s mental health deteriorated to the point where he was signed off work in the summer of 2016. “One of the biggest things for me was admitting to myself that I had a problem. I love racing minis at weekends but it was hard focusing with everything going on in my brain.”

As things got progressively worse Ben, 41, shut his family out and began a downwards spiral. “I had detached myself from everything which was scary for my wife. I remember my friend coming to see me and he said, ‘have you reached the bottom yet?’”

A medical discharge followed, and it was while he was struggling to deal with his transition that Ben first called on SSAFA for support, contacting SSAFA’s Personal Support & Social Work Service RAF. He said: “I spoke to the SSAFA rep and she went into a welfare meeting and fought my corner for me. I didn’t feel I could confront them directly. From that point onwards it was a bit easier because she had kickstarted the process for me.”

Ben started working a couple of days a week fixing vintage cars and found the work placement and “being around people again really useful”. Then in August 2017 he was selected to compete as part of the Invictus Games Racing team driving specially commissioned Jaguars in the British GT championships. He said: “Mission Motorsport were great during the process and still continue to provide great support to me. Getting back out on the track helped me to work things out. It allowed me to focus on just that one thing and that was me taking back control of the situation.”

At the same time Ben was planning for a career beyond the military. He said: “I knew that if I wanted to work as an engineer I would need to have my own tools. Usually you would gradually build up your kit because quality tools are so expensive but I was coming to it with twenty plus years to catch up on. I had an opportunity to buy some tools at cost price which is when I approached SSAFA for help and my caseworker Meyrick was brilliant.”

SSAFA’s Meyrick Aylward was able to secure funding totalling £5,400 for the tool kit from the RAFBF, Help for Heroes and SSAFA’s East Hampshire Division and Ben has now started work as an Aircraft Engineer at a nearby airfield. He said. “Having the tools has made that transition much easier than it would otherwise have been. To buy them all at once would have been very difficult financially.”

Ben completed a placement at 2 Excel Engineering and from that secured a job as an aircraft engineer. “They have been really great,” he said. “I started doing a few days a week in different sections – including the commercial section which was really interesting as that’s all new to me – and then since the beginning of December I have gone back to engineering on the hangar floor. I’m enjoying it. I’m working on an aircraft that’s brand new to me but the people around me have been great and are helping me to adapt my 18 years of experience.”

And Ben is also planning to get back out on the race track – this time to gain his motorsport instructor’s licence.