Mark McDonald

Mark was introduced to SSAFA after being medically discharged from the Army

Mark McDonald

Mark was introduced to SSAFA after being medically discharged from the Army

Mark McDonald, 46, served in the British Army for nearly 24 years before being medically discharged in 2013. He lives with his wife in veterans’ accommodation and the couple are fostering a ten-year-old boy.

“I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2006 while I was serving with the infantry, but I carried on as it was manageable at that stage. In 2007 I spent three weeks at Headley Court and 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.

"The military consultant said it was nerve pain from my MS, but when I left the Army I saw an NHS consultant who disagreed. The scans showed I had three shattered neck vertebrae so it was a completely separate injury. 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 on to a rehabilitation programme. I think resettlement should start five years before you are due to leave and that’s when you should begin thinking about your future. The resettlement class is very basic – you write a CV and you are given £1,000 to find a course and they wish you good luck. But after 22 years in the Army the outside world is an alien environment. People need guidance earlier.

"I was introduced to SSAFA who connected me to all the right charities who could help me – having a single point of contact is crucial. But you need to ask for help, people don’t always know you’re in trouble. After I left the Army, my SSAFA caseworker helped get my medical pension increased from 60% for MS to 90% because of my neck injury. I have had three discs removed from my neck and surgery to relieve the pressure on my spinal column and stop the numbness in my arms and legs. It hasn’t stopped the pain, but hopefully it will bring it under control.

"My SSAFA caseworker also helped me get a £6,000 bursary from the Army Benevolent Fund, which paid for me to do a history degree, and arranged for a Citizens Advice Bureau adviser to help with money management skills. My caseworker and my wife got me funding from my regimental association for a mobility scooter – I resisted it at first, but it means I can still get out and about.

"I have a lot of bad days with the pain, but I’m finishing my degree and I would like to do some teaching, either part-time or voluntary work. Finding a job can be difficult. The trick is to make your skills transferrable. Driving a tank is a great thing but there is not a lot of call for it in the civilian world.

"Employers need to be more imaginative. I think they would be pleasantly surprised by the quality of recruits from the Forces: people who are smartly dressed, always on time, know how to talk to people. But how many employers are willing to take a risk?

"People can have pre-conceptions about veterans. Four years ago we decided to foster a young boy. I was shocked by the experience. We were cleared for fostering, but then the head social worker came to interview me to check I wasn’t institutionalised. Would they have done the same thing if I had been a paramedic or a policeman? But we got through it. We have a lot to give.”