Joe Walker served nearly 20 years in the Army, including in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Iraq, before he was medically discharged in 2014. Having survived an IED explosion in Iraq in 2005, he spent two years rehabilitating but was later diagnosed with PTSD.
On leaving the Army, Joe found himself unable to work with nowhere to live and was forced to declare himself homeless.
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"I joined the Army in 1994, with the Royal Highland Fusiliers. It was in Iraq during my 2004-2005 tour when I was driving a Snatch Land Rover and it got hit by an IED. My side of the vehicle took the impact and we were blown up.
"I was flown back to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham for treatment. I had serious back injuries and needed reconstructive surgery, then many months of rehabilitation.
"It was a bit of a rollercoaster. My daughter was only six months old when it happened. My partner and I split up. I just didn’t know how to express myself. I just kept saying, ‘I’m alright, I’m alright’.
"I was medically discharged in 2014. I was a bit shocked and saddened when it did happen. Being a soldier was all I had ever wanted to do.
"When I came out I was homeless. I remember I had these eight boxes and nowhere to take them. I was sofa surfing but you can’t keep asking for favours and I spent a few nights sleeping outside. I was sleeping in the park for a bit but none of my family knew about that. I think it’s a pride thing. If your head’s not in the right place it’s hard to ask for help. At the time you don’t realise it though. I had never been in that situation before."
In the end, Joe went to stay at a homeless hostel – the first step on the road towards getting his own home. "A lot of my family didn’t know I was in there, I didn’t like to tell them," says Joe. "People say, 'you should have said something', but it’s very hard to do that.
"I stayed at the hostel for a month and I was lucky to be offered housing quickly. I had a housing worker who I had to go and see every second day and I was at the door of her office when it opened. I took the flat as soon as I saw it. It didn’t have any flooring and I didn’t have any furniture. I slept on a camp bed for three months - I didn’t want to ask for anything.
"But then I went to see SSAFA and Glasgow Helping Heroes. SSAFA got me all sorts - a voucher for paint, a new cooker, carpets – they helped to make my house a home.
"I wasn't well prepared for civilian life. In the Army, your rent is deducted from your wages automatically, so you don’t have to think about budgeting. That's really difficult when you come out.
Additionally, Joe suffers from PTSD and back problems, which prevent him from working. "I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2010," explains Joe. "There is a lot more awareness of it now than there was. There’s no cure so it’s all about how you manage it. I don’t sleep very well but that’s common. Some mates call me at 3am when they're having problems. Problems like PTSD aren’t limited to office hours.”
Joe would urge anyone struggling to cope with life after serving in the Armed Forces to seek out the support that is available. He explains: “I think you’re brainwashed, in a sense, when you’re serving. You must not show weakness, you must not show fear. If there are veterans out there now who are having similar problems I would say just ask for help – forget your pride and ask for help."