Andy Bracey, 41, joined the Royal Artillery in 1990 and later served with REME but tours of Northern Ireland and Iraq have left him with severe anxiety. The father-of-one was medically discharged from the Army in 2007 following a motorbike accident but has found a new lease of life in sport and returned from the 2016 Invictus Games with two silver and two bronze medals for wheelchair racing. SSAFA is assisting Andy with getting his home adapted and he is also a member of SSAFA’s Southend Veterans Club.
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“I served in Northern Ireland in 1991 and I was in Iraq 2001/02. Iraq was a war we had to get on with - one where you are inside the barracks and then you go out, do your job and hope that you come back again. I wouldn’t like anyone to see inside my head - I get bad nightmares. To this day I can’t deal with fireworks as the bangs sound like the RPGs and I hate big crowds. When I’m at home I’m ok but if I’m going somewhere I don’t know I get very wary about my surroundings and I need to know where all the entrances and exits are. Being in the chair has just made things worse.”
Andy had a motorbike accident in 2005 while he was home in Essex on leave which put him in hospital for over a month. He was struck by a hit and run driver while stationary at a junction. Although he left hospital walking, the following year he found himself unable to get out of bed one morning and after a further operation he was left needing a wheelchair. “I’m not completely paralysed as I have fairly good circulation from my hips to my knees but from my knees to my feet is bad. It means I’m in pain most of the time. I have got four metal screws and two rods in my back. I can sometimes stand and walk a few steps but then I will fall. I don’t know from day-to-day what I’m going to wake up like.”
Andy’s marriage broke down after the accident and he has been living with his new wife Sally for four years, however they are still waiting for vital adaptations to their house. “The council said I had to have lived there for a year before they could make any changes which I understand, but they never adapted it. Three years later I’m still having to crawl up the stairs and down the step outside the front door. It was my mum who suggested getting in touch with SSAFA. I was a bit doubtful so it took me a while before I made the call and said I need some help. That’s when my caseworker Michele came round and saw me. SSAFA sorted out our rent arrears and now Michele is looking into getting a ramp put in at the front and back because I can hardly get outside at the moment. Michele has been absolutely amazing. She could not do enough. She also told me about the SSAFA Veterans Club that she runs. I don’t like going to new places but Sally persuaded me to go along the first time and the rest is history. I love swapping stories with the older guys every week – it’s a great place.
“I played wheelchair basketball for a few years for Essex Outlaws. One of the guys I played with is now my coach and he said I was pretty quick and suggested I try racing. So I gave it a try and got hooked. Now I train four or five times a week. Doing the sport gives me a real focus. I’m completely different when I’m training. It gives me a reason to get up and go out - otherwise I’d just be sat indoors. If you’re military sport and fitness is really important. So going from being in the military to being dumped in civilian life with a medical discharge is difficult to take. Wheelchair racing is really important to me and I brought home two silvers and two bronzes from the 2016 Invictus Games.”
Medals: Iraq and Northern Ireland