Mark McDonald, 44, served in the British Army for nearly 24 years before being medically discharged in 2013. With support from SSAFA, he is now completing a degree, fostering a child and has seen a big increase in his medical pension.
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“I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2006 while I was serving in the infantry, but I carried on as it was manageable at that stage. In 2007 I spent three weeks at Headley Court, and I started having neck problems the following year. I don’t know what caused them – I have been in car crashes, blown up, had rugby injuries, so I will probably never know. My last year as a serviceman was spent at Tedworth House Recovery Centre in Wiltshire.
"I started the standard resettlement with two years left, but because of my illness I could not do the courses and went straight into a rehabilitation programme. The resettlement class is very basic, and after 22 years in the Army, the outside world is an alien environment. People need guidance earlier.
"I contacted SSAFA who helped me access all the help that I needed, and they became my single point of contact, which made life so much easier for me. My SSAFA caseworker helped me get my medical pension increased from 60% for MS to 90% because of my neck injury. He also helped me get a bursary to do a history degree and I’m looking at moving into teaching afterwards. He also arranged for help with money management skills as well as a mobility scooter. Finding a job can be difficult. The trick is to make your skills transferable. Driving a tank is a great thing, but there is not a lot of call for it in the civilian world.
"People can have pre-conceptions about veterans. Two years ago, we decided to foster a young boy. I was shocked by the experience – I had to convince the authorities I wasn’t institutionalised. SSAFA do so much good work helping overturn negative public perceptions of veterans, including helping those looking to adopt, and helping veterans make the adjustment to civilian life. They’re a fantastic organisation that deserves all the support it can get.”